Richmond, VCU Health roll out vaccines for children ages 5 to 11

Illustration by Olivia McCabe

Gabriela de Camargo Gonçalves, Contributing Writer

About 100 kids a day are getting vaccinated in the Richmond and Henrico district clinics since the Food and Drug Administration authorized the extension of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, according to the districts’ Public Information Officer, Cat Long.

The low-dose vaccine was approved for children ages 5 to 11 by the FDA on Oct. 29 and vaccine eligibility was expanded to them on Nov. 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It took some time nationally after the vaccine for children was first approved to have doses ready because the pediatric dose is one-third of the amount adults received, according to Long.

“Adults might remember when they got their vaccines, they got a phased approach, having to be on waiting lists and maybe having a hard time finding a provider,” Long said. “It is not the case anymore for kids.”

After going through the process of vaccinating adults, the process is much easier with children as supply isn’t an issue, as there are more providers administering the vaccine, according to Long.

It’s not necessary to prioritize certain children because vaccines are more widely accessible, Long said. This was not the case when vaccinating adults 65 years and older, when COVID-19 vaccines first became available in December 2020. The process to get the population vaccinated is much easier now, according to Long.

VCU Health has started to open vaccination clinics at the VCU Children’s Pavilion, located on 1000 E. Broad St. The organization is making the clinic accessible next week, and vaccinations will be distributed through scheduled appointments, according to VCU Health Senior Manager of Clinic Operations Keith Diamond.

VCU Health received doses for children ages 5 to 11 on Nov. 2, yet supplies are still limited, according to Diamond. 

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have not been approved for vaccinating minors, according to the CDC.

There have been 132 hospitalizations among children between ages of 5 and 11 in the state of Virginia since July 31, 2021, according to the VDH. Eleven children under the age of 18 died in the state of Virginia due to COVID-19 from March 2020 to Nov. 6, 2021.

“Each of those is a tragedy. No parent wants to see their child pass away from an illness before they get the chance to become an adult. That’s part of why vaccinating kids is so important to us,” Long said.

According to the FDA, vaccinating children will restore in-person learning that is “critical” for childhood development and adequate learning, and will have a broader economic impact due to the closure of schools and daycares.

“Vaccination will help restore the availability of in-person learning for children by limiting community spread and school outbreaks and reducing the need for student quarantine,” the FDA stated. 

Richmond Public Schools has partnered with the Virginia Department of Health to help vaccinate children against COVID-19. The department has been conducting vaccination clinics for children and community members at numerous schools in the city after school hours and during the weekends, according to RPS Associate Director of Advocacy and Outreach Sarah Abubaker.

As of right now, it is not “on their radar” to make COVID-19 vaccination a requirement for attending school, but getting the vaccine is encouraged, according to Abubaker.

“We are obviously strongly encouraging vaccinations amongst eligible students but at this time, that is at the discretion of parents,” Abubaker said.

Those looking to get vaccinated with a booster or a first dose for children ages 5 to 11 can look to the Richmond and Henrico Health Departments’ resources — including going to the nearest vaccination site, pediatricians, pharmacies, calling the health department’s hotline or visiting the departments’ website

Due to scheduling issues, the former vaccination site of Richmond Raceway closed for vaccination on Nov. 6 and was replaced on Nov. 8 by the Arthur Ashe Junior Athletic Center, located at 3001 N. Arthur Ashe Blvd. The new location expanded the capacity for individuals and the number of vaccines supplied, as well as providing the local community with a familiar location, according to Long.

The center has served a “tremendous” number of people seeking vaccinations, not only kids but also adults for boosters during its hours of Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m, according to Long.

“It allows us to do more community engagement and monitoring the data of where we see lower vaccine uptake, and setting up informational sessions or community vaccination sites in those areas [lower income communities],” Long said. “It’s been a huge help.”

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