SPRINGFIELD – When it came time for her two young sons to receive their first shots of COVID-19 vaccine, Jamie Cross had a few tricks that worked better than sugar to make the vaccine go down.
Blasting rock music by Fall Out Boy in the car on the way to the clinic – singing and dancing encouraged – was effective, “and, afterwards, they got to pick a reward at Target,” said Cross, a Decatur resident who is a nurse practitioner at Memorial Occupational Health in Decatur. Seven-year-old Jackson selected a Lego set, while Cooper, 5, went with a dinosaur toy.
“I’m proud of them,” said Cross, “and they are both proud of themselves. They’ve told their [family members] about getting vaccinated, and I’m sure they are telling everyone at school about it as well.”
Cross’ children received their first round of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last week at the Memorial Drive-Thru Lab on South Sixth Street in Springfield. Clinicians at the drive-thru facility began administering shots of vaccine to elementary school-age children Nov. 19.
“I hope [by getting her own children vaccinated] to set a positive example and to show that I believe in the safety of the vaccine,” said Cross.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the independent group of experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), voted Nov. 2 to recommend COVID-19 vaccines for elementary school-age children. The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, signed off on the use of the vaccine in the younger age group hours after receiving the ACIP’s recommendation.
Facilities cannot use vaccine intended for older children or adults to vaccinate a child in the younger age group because the dosage is not the same. This has caused some clinics to experience delays in receiving supplies of vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.
Nationally, about one-third of parents of 5- to 11-year-olds (27 percent) are eager to have their young child vaccinated, according to information collected in October by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In the same survey, 30 percent of participants reported they would definitely not get the vaccine for their elementary school-age children.
Dr. Anna Richie, clinical director of urgent care services at Memorial Care, said she understands parents’ concerns.
“Parents are most often concerned about side effects their child may experience after receiving the vaccine,” said Richie. “Most side effects are mild – the child may experience redness or swelling around the injection site, for example – and last less than a couple days.”
Another concern of parents involves vaccine-induced myocarditis, or inflammation around the heart, most often reported among older teenage boys after receiving the vaccine. Myocarditis, said Richie, can happen after other vaccines and viral illnesses. The condition is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and typically lasts less than a week.
“Cases of myocarditis following vaccination are generally mild,” said Richie. “The child is at higher risk of myocarditis if they should contract acute COVID-19. Myocarditis tends to be more severe at that point. If a parent is truly concerned about myocarditis, they should vaccinate their child against COVID-19. Vaccination is the safer choice.”
In addition to the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics has also expressed support for vaccinating young children against COVID-19.
Richie’s then 14-year-old daughter, Eva, was one of the first in line to receive her first round of COVID-19 vaccine when emergency use authorization was expanded to include children 12 to 15 years old. Memorial Health began offering vaccine to individuals 12 and older at its drive-thru clinic in Springfield in mid-May, one day after the authorization was announced.
For young children like Jackson and Cooper Cross, it’s been two years of missed school and limited visits with friends and family. Knowing her sons have received their first round of vaccine, Cross feels they are that much closer to a return to a normal childhood.
“My youngest son doesn’t know what school is like without COVID-19,” said Cross. “My oldest had his kindergarten school year cut short. They are looking forward to simple things like play dates and being able to see people’s faces again, to see people’s mouths form words.
“I’m happy they could get the vaccine; that they’re protected against severe illness from COVID-19,” said Cross, “and I’m looking forward to the opportunities they’ll have now that they’re on their way to being fully vaccinated.”