COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 are now available in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, health officials announced on Wednesday.
The announcement comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine for this age group, long considered a critical component of protecting the community and returning to normalcy after the nearly two-year pandemic. The availability of the shots for the younger children comes at a time when health officials have expressed concern of another potential surge of cases as the holidays approach. The vaccines will also help prevent the spread of the virus in schools, health and public officials have said.
"Our efforts over the last 19 months have been difficult but necessary, as California continues to maintain the lowest case rate in the entire country. However, as we move towards the winter holidays, the pandemic still poses a grave threat. Science has shown that vaccination continues to be the safest and most effective way to prevent COVID-19 and mitigate the most serious consequences of the disease, such as hospitalization and death," California Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccines for younger school-aged children after extensive review. California also required a review by the independent Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, which conducts its own review and approval of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
Pediatric COVID-19 vaccine doses are one-third the amount of adult doses and are specially formulated for the younger age group, health officials in both counties noted. Two doses given 21 days apart are needed for full immunity. The Pfizer vaccine is the only one currently available for younger children, while the Moderna and Janssen/Johnson & Johnson vaccines, along with Pfizer, are plentiful and available for anyone ages 12 and older, including as booster shots for adults ages 65 and up and to anyone over 12 years old who has a medical condition or work situation that makes them vulnerable for serious illness from the virus.
Santa Clara County plans to serve 2,000 children in the 5- to-11-year-old age group on Wednesday and another 2,000 on Thursday, said Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
"We feel very confident that we can vaccinate over 20,000 kids this week," she said.
There are 167,000 children in the age group in the county, according to the Public Health Department. Tong said six vaccination sites opened Wednesday and others are expected as needed. Because of expected high demand, the clinics require an appointment at this time but it might allow drop-ins at a later date. Residents can sign up at sccfreevax.org and also find updates on the website.
The county is using its mobile vaccination clinic to provide shots on site at 80 schools in higher-risk ZIP codes throughout the county, she said.
Shelly Hausman, spokesperson for the Mountain View-Whisman School District, said the district has requested that Santa Clara County provide free, mobile vaccination events at its schools but they haven't heard back yet with any specific dates.
Tong said that while the number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 have gone down, there are children in the 5 to 11 age group, mostly those with underlying health conditions, who have been hospitalized. She urged parents to vaccinate their children.
"We don't yet know the long-term effects of infection," she said, noting the "long COVID" syndrome. Getting this age group vaccinated will also go a long way toward lifting the indoor mask mandate, county officials have said.
The Santa Clara County Office of Education on Wednesday also released a statement promoting the importance of youth vaccinations in keeping schools open for full-time, in-person instruction.
"Vaccines are safe and effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our homes, schools and communities," said Dr. Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County's superintendent of schools. "Promoting vaccine access to all eligible children in Santa Clara County is one of the leading public health strategies for preventing illness and continuity of in-person schooling."
Children will receive a white CDC COVID-19 vaccine record card in addition to a children's yellow immunization card, if they have one. Both cards will be updated so parents or guardians are encouraged to bring the yellow card to their child’s appointment, the Office of Education said.
Families are encouraged to reach out to their child's doctor or health care specialist to ask any questions they may have about their child’s vaccination and to see if they are offering vaccine appointments for children.
The Office of Education, the county Public Health Department and Stanford Health Care will host a virtual town hall at 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 8, to answer questions and provide additional information to families regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. To attend the town hall, visit sccoe.to/YouthVaxTH.
San Mateo County will offer a child-focused, walk-up vaccination clinic on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the San Mateo County Event Center at 1346 Saratoga Drive in San Mateo, health officials said in a statement. Appointments are required for Saturday’s pediatric clinic and can be made at myturn.ca.gov. The so-called Playland clinic will include superheroes, a red carpet and themes such Legoland, Candy Land, superheroes and Roblox this Saturday.
The county is also partnering with the San Mateo County Office of Education to support school-based vaccination clinics in four elementary school locations that will be available to families in the North, Central, South and Coastside communities during the week of Nov. 15. "We will continue to identify gaps in the reach of the vaccine to ensure that vulnerable communities have convenient access to vaccination opportunities," the county statement said.
The county sites would be in the Redwood City, Pacifica and San Mateo-Foster City school districts and Jefferson Elementary School District, said Patricia Love, spokesperson for the county Office of Education, but other schools are already setting up their own clinics.
Menlo Park City School District administrators are hosting vaccine clinics, with Safeway Pharmacy, for the age group on Saturday, Nov. 6, and Sunday, Nov. 7, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hillview Middle School, 1100 Elder Ave. in Menlo Park. Visit district.mpcsd.org/Hillview for information. Nearly 1,700 kids have signed up and the district is at maximum capacity, Parke Treadway, the district's public information officer, said in an email.
"As a parent of young children myself, the day they can be vaccinated is one I have been looking forward to for a long time," said Superintendent Erik Burmeister in an email. "I think we all feel this is a momentous milestone in reaching the end of this pandemic."
Local pharmacies, including CVS, Safeway, Lucky Supermarkets, and Walgreens, also plan to offer vaccines for the 5- to-11-year-old group at some of their locations. Residents should check the MyTurn and pharmacy chain websites to confirm availability. As of Wednesday, Costco and Rite-Aid had not indicated a plan to offer these pediatric vaccines, the county noted.
Stanford Children's Health is also offering the vaccines at 25 pediatric clinics throughout the Bay Area. Information and scheduling links are available online at stanfordchildrens.org/en/landing/covid-vaccine, while Sutter Health/Palo Alto Medical Foundation hasn't yet started scheduling, according to its website.
Vaccine appointments are already being scheduled, with many starting to fill up.
Redwood City Vice Mayor Giselle Hale booked COVID-19 vaccine appointments for her 5- and 7-year-old daughters for next week. She took to Walgreens' website Tuesday night after she heard other parents had luck signing their kids up through the pharmacy. She looks forward to the girls resuming indoor playdates, going to movies and eating out, she said, Hale has limited their interactions with others outside of school to limit exposure to COVID-19 and keep them in school, her main priority.
"It’s a huge sigh of relief," she said, noting she's heard an "eagerness" and "willingness" from parents to have their children inoculated against the virus. "We're now starting to see the emotional and physical trauma that COVID has created for children; it’s one important step in our path toward healing."
Dayna Chung, executive director at Community Equity Collaborative, a Menlo Park resident and parent to students at Oak Knoll Elementary, Hillview Middle and Menlo-Atherton High schools, said she is glad the vaccines are finally approved for the younger students.
"My 11-year old will soon have the same level of protection from COVID-19 that my husband and I plus our older children (ages 13 and 16) enjoy. I am so grateful for the extraordinary efforts by the Menlo Park City School District to organize this weekend's vaccine clinic for children ages 5 to 11. When my son, who hates shots but has been eager for this day, learned I got him a vaccine appointment at Hillview, he was overjoyed!"
Getting her son vaccinated will open doors "big and small" that have been out of reach for nearly two years, she said.
"He can go inside a friend's house or eat at a restaurant. We haven't gotten on a plane since the pandemic began but once he is fully vaccinated we can travel more. My husband's entire family is in Singapore, so I hope we can see them soon."
The Las Lomitas Elementary School District will host a youth vaccine clinic at Cano Hall at Las Lomitas Elementary School, 299 Alameda de las Pulgas in Atherton, on Wednesday, Nov. 10, from noon to 6 p.m. and on Nov. 20 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with Safeway Pharmacy. Flu shots and COVID-19 Pfizer booster shots will also be available at the clinic.
Ann Waterman Roy, strategic pandemic recovery consultant for the Ravenswood City School District, said the district is working to get its health care partners to set up clinics at its three elementary schools.
"We are thrilled and really eager to get our kiddos vaccinated," she said.
Ravenswood has hosted vaccine clinics for its middle school students ages 12 and up, which resulted in 57% having at least one shot and 47% being fully vaccinated with two shots, she said. Those numbers are higher than the national average, she added.
While some parents are already eager to have their children vaccinated, the district expects that others will benefit from planned information sessions at the schools with local doctors who can answer questions, she said. The district also encourages parents to talk to their medical clinic or physician for answers and to receive the vaccinations, she said.
San Mateo County's health department is hosting a webinar on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy for 5- to 11-year-olds. Health experts, such as a Stanford University pediatrics professor Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, will answer questions.