Local health officials are preparing to start administering COVID-19 vaccines to Bartholomew County’s youngest residents after state officials expanded eligibility to children as young as 6 months.
Indiana expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to children ages 6 months or older on Tuesday, just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccines for the youngest of children.
The move makes nearly all Bartholomew County residents eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. There were an estimated 5,463 children younger than 5 in the county in 2020.
The Indiana Department of Health said the shots for children ages 6 months to 5 years are now available at some providers in the state. Initial sites include private health care providers, local health departments and some hospitals and pharmacies.
Columbus Regional Health, for its part, is working to “get everything in place” before the doses arrive and anticipates starting vaccinating children ages 6 months to 5 years at some point within the next week, said CRH spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue.
CRH plans to make the shots available at all practices that see pediatric patients, DeClue said.
“We’ve been eagerly anticipating this and getting ready,” DeClue said.
“We’re getting everything in place on the back end to be ready to go when the vaccine arrives on site,” DeClue added. “We’re still not exactly sure when that will be, but we anticipate within the week.”
The Bartholomew County Health Department also anticipates expanding vaccinations to children 6 months to 5 years, said Amanda Organist, the department’s director of nursing.
Organist said she expected to receive guidance from the Indiana State Department of Health at some point on Tuesday.
“We will receive 100 doses of both Moderna and Pfizer to get us started,” Organist said, adding that she expected the shipment to arrive Tuesday. “Individuals will need to call the health department to make an appointment for this age group.”
According to a map on the Indiana Department of Health’s vaccine portal, COVID-19 vaccines for certain pediatric patients may also be available through the Developmental Services Inc., Northside Pediatrics, Franciscan Physician Network Primary and Specialty, as well as some local pharmacies and retailers.
However, it is not yet clear if or when these locations will start vaccinating the youngest eligible children. More information about COVID-19 vaccines can be found at ourshot.in.gov.
The expanding eligibility in Indiana comes just days after the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration signed off on COVID-19 shots for children as young as 6 months.
Two brands — Pfizer and Moderna — got the green light Friday from the FDA and Saturday from the CDC, The Associated Press reported. The vaccines use the same technology but are being offered at different dose sizes and number of shots for the youngest kids.
Pfizer’s vaccine is for children 6 months to 4 years old, according to wire reports. The dose is one-tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given three weeks apart, and the last at least two months later.
Moderna is two shots, each a quarter of its adult dose, given about four weeks apart for kids 6 months through 5 years old, according to wire reports. The FDA also approved a third dose, at least a month after the second shot, for children with immune conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness.
The FDA approves or authorizes vaccines, but it’s the CDC that decides who should get them.
The shots offer young children protection from hospitalization, death and possible long-term complications that are still not clearly understood, the CDC’s advisory panel said.
Though people ages 65 and up account for the majority of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, children can still get very sick and aren’t immune from the worst consequences of the virus, federal and state records show.
COVID-19 is the fifth leading cause of death among children ages 1 to 4 and the seventh most common cause of death among people ages 0 to 19, according to the CDC, citing death certificate data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
No other infectious disease has killed more children in the U.S. since March 2020 than COVID-19, the CDC said.
As of June 2, 1,086 children in the U.S. had died from COVID-19 — including 442 children ages 4 or younger who have been too young to get vaccinated, according to the CDC.
In Indiana, 29 children had died from COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, according to figures from the Indiana Department of Health. That includes two children in Bartholomew County — one infant and one child ages 12 to 17 — who have died from the virus.
In addition, COVID-19 has killed three children in neighboring Shelby County.
As of this past Thursday, 29 children had been hospitalized at CRH with COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic, the hospital said.
“I believe that parents should get their children vaccinated, period,” said Bartholomew County Health Officer Dr. Brian Niedbalski. “That goes for all childhood vaccines. If there is a vaccine, such as the COVID-19 vaccine, that can prevent serious disease or death in a child, then I believe that choice should be strongly considered by parents. We must also be mindful that COVID-19 can lead to Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, causing heart, lung, kidney, and brain inflammation.”
In recent weeks, COVID-19 transmission has remained high in Bartholomew County, with local health officials reminding residents that “we’re still in this,” referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
Though Bartholomew County remains in the CDC’s lowest category of COVID-19 levels, Shelby County, as well as a group of seven counties just south of Jackson County, were listed in the “medium” or yellow category as of early afternoon Tuesday.
Dubois County in southwest Indiana is currently in the CDC’s “high” or orange category.
As of this past Wednesday, there were eight people hospitalized with COVID-19 at CRH, down from 12 earlier in the week, according to the most recent data from the hospital.
“We have seen a slight continued rise in hospitalizations and also severity of cases, with a few more critical cases than we’ve seen in weeks past,” DeClue said. “All this just indicates that the virus is still circulating and causing moderate to serious illness in some.”
Overall, roughly 3 in 5 Bartholomew County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC. But just over half of those in Bartholomew County who are fully vaccinated have gotten a booster shot.
A total of 2,315 Bartholomew County children ages 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated, as well as 2,265 children ages 5 to 11, according to state figures. Local health officials, for their part, are hoping that local demand for pediatric shots will be high.
“If you have any cold or allergy-like symptoms, please get tested,” DeClue said. “We encourage those at a higher risk to consider masking in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. And please make sure you’re up-to-date with your vaccine series, based on your age and health status.”