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Maryland rolls out COVID-19 vaccines for children

A nurse holds a vial containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination site.
Paul Hennessy
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Roughly 515,000 Maryland children ages 5 to 11 are newly eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Maryland has already begun giving the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 5, after the CDC authorized it earlier this week, state officials said Wednesday.

The CDC’s decision Tuesday made roughly 515,000 Maryland children newly eligible for the vaccine, something state leaders and health officials celebrated at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“We have hope today,” said Michael Zollicoffer, a pediatrician in Baltimore.

Zollicoffer noted that nationwide, 8,300 children between 5 and 11 years old have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 2,300 have been infected with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, including 94 who have died.

“Have three in my practice. Gladly, none of them have passed,” Zollicoffer said. “But they want to send a message to everybody: ‘We don't want this. You don't want this. So please get immunized.’”

Gov. Larry Hogan said the state has been working on its plan for distributing vaccines to the newly eligible children for weeks.

“Based on requests from providers across the state, Maryland placed an initial order of 180,000 doses, which began arriving directly from Pfizer earlier this week,” he said.

According to state Health Secretary Dennis Schrader, the state has about 23,000 doses on hand, some of which have already been administered, with another 40,000 in transit. That does not include doses that go directly from the federal government to pharmacies.

Children will be able to get vaccines from doctor’s offices, pharmacies, clinics at some public schools and clinics run by local health departments, Hogan said.

Parents can find a provider offering the vaccine at COVIDvax.maryland.gov, or by calling 1-855-MD-GoVax.

The governor said he knows some parents are jumping at the chance to vaccinate their newly eligible kids, while other parents have lingering questions and concerns about the vaccines.

“It is important that they get all of those questions answered,” Hogan said. “It's why we are strongly encouraging parents who do have concerns to talk directly with their pediatricians, or their family physicians.”

Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary for public health services at the state Department of Health, tried to answer a few of the more common questions.

She emphasized that the vaccine is safe, having been stringently studied, and that it is 90.7% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in 5 to 11 year olds.

Like the vaccine given to people ages 12 and older, the vaccine for the newly approved age group requires two doses, given three weeks apart. However, the dose is a third of the one given to older age groups, Chan said.

Possible side effects for children are similar to those that adults experience — soreness and swelling at the injection site, as well as headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pains and a mild fever. These tend to clear up within two to three days.

But Chan said these side effects are nowhere near as bad as what can happen if children get COVID-19.

“Maryland has seen 158 cases of the Multi[system] Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or the MIS-C, which is a post-COVID disease syndrome, seen in children, characterized by severe inflammation of multiple organ systems, including the heart, lung, kidneys, and gastrointestinal systems,” Chan said. “Many of these kids are quite ill and do end up in the hospital because of this post-COVID syndrome.”

Nationally, she said, about half of children who have gotten COVID-19 have experienced so-called “long COVID” — weeks or months of symptoms ranging from headaches and trouble concentrating to joint pain and a cough.

Meanwhile, in the last few months, about 14% of Maryland’s COVID-19 cases have been in children younger than 10, Chan said, up from about 6% at the beginning of 2020.

“So for all the parents out there, please, look for a vaccine,” Chan said.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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