The youngest Vermonters have waited the longest for a COVID vaccine. Here's why this rollout is different
On a recent Wednesday morning, 2-year-old Millie Soares enters a walk-in COVID vaccine clinic at the Shelburne Town Offices. She’s holding her dad Bruno’s hand. In the other, a green plastic alien.
After filling out some paperwork, Bruno scoops Millie onto his lap for the big moment while a health care worker cleans Millie’s leg to prepare her for the vaccine.
To distract Millie from the needle, Bruno holds up a bright yellow lollipop, but it turns out they didn’t even need it.
“I was actually surprised, because I was still opening her lollipop and preparing her for the shot when we were already done. And she didn’t even notice that she got the shot,” Bruno says.
Millie is under 5 years old, making her part of the newest — and last — age group eligible for the first dose of the COVID vaccine.
Her family wanted to get her protected before she starts pre-K in September. Bruno says that most parents in his circle are also vaccinating their young children this summer, but there doesn’t seem to be a huge rush.
“It seems like most people these days haven’t been too anxious to vaccinate their young kids, because the last variant wasn’t that severe in symptoms,” he says.
“It seems like most people these days haven’t been too anxious to vaccinate their young kids, because the last variant wasn’t that severe in symptoms."Bruno Soares, parent
A month into vaccination efforts, about 3,500 Vermont kids between the ages of 6 months and 5 years have received a dose of the COVID vaccine out of the 26,000 who are eligible. That’s 13% of this new age group.
Let’s compare that to Vermont’s 5- to 11-year-olds, who recently reached vaccination rates of 60% since they became eligible last October.
Monica Ogelby, the immunization program manager for the Vermont Health Department says that she does not expect the youngest age group to reach that 60% number.
Ogelby says one reason is that this age group has fewer opportunities to be exposed to the virus because they are not in school yet.
"So if they are not in those types of spaces and if their exposure is just generally lower because of their lifestyle, then families might feel less compelled,” Ogelby said.
She also mentioned that pediatricians are playing a key role, because just about half of this age group’s vaccinations are happening in a doctor’s office.
”We're expecting that there are going to be some families who are just going to wait until their next appointment with their doctor to have a conversation with them about the vaccine,” she said.
Another factor is that while waiting to become eligible for a shot, a lot of these kids got COVID. Because of this, some parents are wondering if vaccinating their child is even necessary.
Like Caitlin Lovegrove, from Waterbury Vermont. She is the mother of two young kids under the age of 5. Like many parents, Caitlin speaks to the challenge of raising kids during a pandemic. Especially, when, this past April, her whole family got COVID.
When Lovegrove's kids finally became eligible this June, she was hesitant about getting them vaccinated.
“Do I really need to put my kids through this? And I obviously did, because I think it’s the right thing to do for, you know, our community at large, for those who are still immunocompromised and can’t get the vaccine," she said. "But definitely kind of frustrated at how it all rolled out. Pretty much everybody in my daughter's class has had COVID already, so what that means for them choosing or not choosing to get vaccinated, I don't know."
As we head into the school year, state officials and pediatricians like Dr. Leah Costello with Timber Lane Pediatrics in South Burlington say that it is still important to get these kids vaccinated even if they have already had COVID.
"We are recommending vaccination for all children even if they’ve had COVID," Costello said. "Especially now that we're seeing that omicron is mutating quickly, that immunity from a previous infection may not provide enough response to a future variant if your child were to be exposed to that."
It is also pretty easy to get the shot. As part of Vermont’s rollout plan, several pop-up clinics are open daily around the state, and no registration is needed.
"We are recommending vaccination for all children even if they’ve had COVID. Especially now that we're seeing that omicron is mutating quickly, that immunity from a previous infection may not provide enough response to a future variant if your child were to be exposed to that."Dr. Leah Costello, Timber Lane Pediatrics
Christina Brace, the vaccine coordinator for Garnet Healthcare, is part of a mobile clinic that travels statewide to administer vaccines to Vermonters, including the recent clinic in Shelburne.
Brace said that some days are slow, and others aren’t. She also mentioned that many parents seem relieved.
“Parents are super pumped to be vaccinating their kiddos. They said they have been waiting a long time for this to happen,” she said.
The wait has left some parents of young kids feeling left behind while the rest of the world moves on.
Like Kristin Maffei of Norwich, who recently vaccinated her 20-month-old son Booker at a walk-in clinic in Thetford.
“I think that for almost two years of his life, and through my pregnancy and everything, it was all about making this sort of risk-benefit analysis for every decision we made, which is a little bit exhausting,” Maffei said.
Now that Booker is vaccinated, Maffei says that she will enjoy taking him to the Montshire Museum of Science without feeling the weight of the risk.
Back at the clinic in Shelburne, Millie and her dad Bruno are finishing up. They walk outside to get some air, and Millie enjoys her lemon lollipop as a post-shot treat.
Bruno said while getting Millie vaccinated is a great step towards protection, it wouldn’t change their lives too much.
“Honestly, we haven’t been doing much traveling that would expose them. And the few times that we did, it was during the omicron variant, which was theoretically milder,” Bruno said.
Still, getting the vaccine is a cause for celebration. Between the choice of playground or creemee, Millie chooses the playground.
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