the campaign to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds in Bartholomew County against COVID-19 got off to a strong start this week, health officials said. However, uncertainty remains on how long the initial burst of interest in the shots will last even as coronavirus cases rise among children.
As of Thursday morning, 84 children in Bartholomew County had received the low-dose Pfizer vaccine since federal regulators granted final clearance for the shots on Nov. 2 — accounting for nearly 30% of initial vaccine doses in the county since then.
Columbus Regional Health officials said they vaccinated 177 children age 5 to 11 at its standalone clinic at 1702 Keller Ave. during the first three days the shots were offered to younger children, some of whom may not have been Bartholomew County residents.
“That’s really, really encouraging,” said Kelsey DeClue said, Columbus Regional Health spokeswoman. “…We did expect a good response, especially with this initial onset, but it is a little bit higher than we expected, especially in that facility. So it’s been really great.”
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final green light for the pediatric vaccines after the Food and Drug Administration authorized them for children ages 5 to 11 — doses just a third of the amount given to teens and adults, The Associated Press reported.
The move made an estimated 7,800 children in Bartholomew County newly eligible for the shots, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
The push to expand the vaccinate campaign comes as cases rise among among local children and demand for the life-saving shots wanes among adults.
A total of 75 children ages 5 to 11 in the Bartholomew County area tested positive for COVID-19 from Nov. 4 to 10, up from 35 the same period the week before, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
Since the pandemic began, at least 1,775 children have been infected with COVID-19 in Bartholomew County. Locally, 14 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at CRH, the hospital said. An additional 11 people ages 18 or 19 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 at CRH.
The initial surge in demand for pediatric vaccinations was expected from parents who have been waiting for the chance to protect their younger kids, especially before the holidays, The Associated Press reported. Kids who get their first of two shots by the end of next week will be fully vaccinated by Christmas.
About 3% of newly eligible children in the U.S. got first shots in the first week, compared to about 1% of 5- to 11-year-olds in Bartholomew County.
“I don’t have a grasp for the demand yet, but I’m hopeful there will be a steady stream coming in for that age group,” said Bartholomew County Health Officer Dr. Brian Niedbalski. “I’m assuming the rates will largely depend on the parents’ views of the COVID vaccines.”
“I definitively recommend the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11,” Niedbalski said. “I’m in favor of any vaccine, developed to prevent disease, that has been proven to be safe and effective. If I had a child in that age group, they would get the vaccine, as they do with other required or recommended vaccines.”
So far, the number of 5- to 11 year-olds getting vaccinated has varied widely in the Columbus area, as it has for adult vaccines.
Just 17 children in that age group living in Jackson County had received their first vaccine dose as of Thursday morning, as well as 22 children in Decatur County and 14 in Brown County, according to state records. Fewer than five children ages 5 to 11 in Jennings County received their first shot during the same time period.
Currently, it is unclear how many local parents are interested in vaccinating their children. Almost two-thirds of parents recently polled by the Kaiser Family Foundation said they would wait or not seek out vaccines for their kids, according to wire reports.
Additionally, demand for COVID-19 vaccines in general has markedly declined in Bartholomew County over the past several months, according to the Indiana Department of Health. And children ages 12 to 15 are one of the least vaccinated age groups in Bartholomew County, with just 44.5% of that population fully vaccinated as of Friday morning, according to state records.
“(Sustaining demand) is always a concern, because we know early on, just anecdotally, this is the engaged group of families that is coming in now, likely because vaccination is a priority for the whole family and they’ve been waiting for this day for their younger kids,” DeClue said.
“We don’t want people to rest on their laurels just because we’re seeing (overall) hospitalization numbers decline,” DeClue added. “We are still seeing rapid spread (of COVID-19) in the community and increased positives in the pediatric population.”
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.