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COVID shots for 6-mo. to 5-year-old kids begin Tuesday in Pima County

'Accelerated transmission' as local coronavirus cases at highest level in months

Pima County parents will be able to vaccinate their children aged 6 months to 5 years against COVID-19 starting Tuesday, after Pfizer and Moderna shots for young kids were approved Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration.

The Pima County Health Department has already ordered 2,000 doses for children, which will be available at clinics. Pediatricians' offices and pharmacies will have the doses for young kids later, officials said.

The rollout of more pediatric vaccines comes as Pima County is in "an accelerated transmission phase," with the number of new COVID infections being reported at the highest point since February. Local health officials said that getting smaller children vaccinated should help stem the spread of the virus.

An additional 20 million children in the United States will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine after the decision, according to a June 18 CDC press release. “We know millions of parents and caregivers are eager to get their young children vaccinated, and with today’s decision, they can,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Parents in Pima County will be able to get shots for children who fit the age group by noon on Tuesday, county officials said. The county anticipates vaccinating about 40 to 50 percent of the newly eligible population over the next four to six weeks, Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Health Department, said at a press conference Monday.

A select group of pediatricians will also be able to start offering the vaccine on Tuesday if they joined the county in the pre-order program. Vaccines for these younger kids will be available at Pima County clinics and the Abrams Public Health Center. People can find information on the Health Department's standing mobile vaccine clinics, including hours and locations online.

Other doctors' offices will have to order the new shots, which are smaller than adult doses, and parents have to check to see which pediatricians have the vaccines available.

Many pharmacies will also offer the new doses, Cullen said, but “they will not start tomorrow (Tuesday)” as they haven’t pre-ordered the vaccines. “It’s best you call your local pharmacy” to find out when they have the new shots, she said.

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Pharmacies surveyed by PCHD have reported they haven’t yet ordered the new vaccine for the 6-month to 5-year-old age group, Cullen said.

Booster...shots (not seats)

Between 80,000 to 90,000 children in Pima County fit into the newly eligible population, Cullen said. It’s the last age group that needed to be approved for COVID vaccines, she said.

About 20 to 25 percent of parents nationwide with children in the age group are expected to get them vaccinated against COVID right away, according to data from the Kaiser Health Foundation cited by Cullen. Another 25 to 30 percent will have a “minimal delay” by waiting to see what happens before they vaccinate their children between 6 months and 5 years old.

Of children in the 5-9 age group, 53 percent are fully vaccinated, Cullen said.

The FDA and CDC also approved the booster series for the two COVID vaccine brands that are delivering the new doses, which are Moderna and Pfizer. Just as for adults getting their shots, the first dose only gives some protection, and boosters are needed for effective immunization against COVID, Cullen said.

Children receiving the Moderna shot will have to follow with a booster shot one month after their first dose. The same is true for children under 17 receiving the Moderna shot. Children between 6 months and 17 years old with weak immune systems can also get a third shot one month after their second.

For the Pfizer vaccine, three doses are given to kids between 6 months and 5 years old, and not just for the immunocompromised. The first two shots are given to kids in the age group three weeks apart, followed by a third dose at least eight weeks after the second dose.

The new vaccines are expected to have the same limited side effects for eligible children as adult vaccines have had, Cullen said. This might include “a little pain, a little fever. Nothing serious,” she said.

“We anticipate that after the completion of either the second or third shot, you will get protection for your child approximately three to four weeks after that time,” Cullen said.

'Accelerated transmission'

Pima County is in “an accelerated transmission phase,” Cullen said, with the number of new cases at the highest point since February. Gov. Doug Ducey ended the COVID declaration of emergency in early March after cases began falling to their lowest totals since the start of the pandemic.

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The county had 2,451 new COVID infections reported since last week along with three deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services. Statewide, 16,334 COVID cases were reported since last week along with 28 additional deaths from the virus.

More than 30,000 Arizonans have died from COVID-19, with more than 2,093,000 reported infections in the state since the start of the pandemic. In the last six months, there have been 764,000 new reported cases, and more than 6,000 additional deaths from the virus in the state.

Before March, every county in Arizona had been rated as “high” transmission since August, because there were more than 100 new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period. The CDC has since changed their metrics for rating community transmission by factoring in hospital admissions and bed use.

The CDC has the community transmission rated as medium because more than 234 people per every 100,000 individuals have been infected with COVID over the past seven days. The rate of new COVID hospital admissions in that time was 7 per 100,000 with 3 percent of hospital beds in the county in use by COVID-positive patients, which are metrics the CDC also considers in its rating.

Vaccinating the 6 months to 5 years old age group will be important for protecting daycares and schools, Cullen said, as they were interrupted by outbreaks during the most recent school year.

“In the last year, there were daycares that had to close because there were outbreaks of COVID-19,” she said. “There were schools and kindergartens that had to close because of outbreaks.”

School children can also tend to bring the virus home to adults and siblings, Cullen said, which contributes to the community spread.

“Our hope is that this vaccine will help decrease the number of cases that we are seeing,” she said. “Anything we can do to try to mitigate (accelerated transmission) is considered a win for the Health Department.”

Virus transmission in the community may be up to five times what’s being reported, Cullen said, as fewer people follow up by reporting at-home COVID test results. The actual rate may be as high as 500 to 1,000 new cases each week per 100,000 people.

Pima County residents can still find information for free testing by the Health Department online.

“Given that number, there is no indication that all of a sudden we are going to see a tremendous decrease,” Cullen said. 

Over 70% of Arizonans are vaccinated against COVID-19, with over 84,000 doses received last week, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Nearly half of the state’s April COVID-19 deaths were from unvaccinated people.

The county is also seeing an higher than normal amount flu and respiratory disease cases, Cullen said, which may have been caused by masking and social distancing as fewer people were exposed to illnesses enough to build up immunity. She recommended that Pima County residents be cautious for the upcoming July 4 weekend.

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Cullen during a virtual press conference.