Children ages 5 and up can now get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, with local Orange County schools potentially hosting vaccine clinics for the newly eligible kids down the road.
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Local community clinic physician, Dr. Jay Lee, said the expanded shot eligibility means parents can worry less about sending their children to school or sports.
“Coming at this as a parent of three … this gives us a lot more comfort knowing that we can get everyone vaccinated and not worry as much and kind of live life,” said Lee, who’s the chief medical officer at Share Our Selves — a Costa Mesa-based community health clinic.
“As a two-physician parent family, we’re definitely vaccinating our kids as soon as we’re able,” Lee said in a Wednesday phone interview.
The Pfizer vaccine will be administered for children 5-11 in two separate shots, but will be at smaller doses than the vaccine for children 12 and up.
Parental consent is required for anyone under 18 to get vaccinated — but in OC, parents have to physically be with their children in order to get them vaccinated.
State public health officials said they’ve been working with local health departments and school districts to plan for vaccination clinics ahead of the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization of the shot last Friday.
The idea of vaccinating children has raised concerns among many parents throughout OC, while others welcome the idea — especially following the announcement of expected shot mandates from state officials.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an incoming vaccine mandate for students to attend school in person.
But it only kicks in once the vaccines are fully approved.
That means it could be months before children are required to get vaccinated since federal officials have only issued an emergency use authorization for shots going to children younger than 16 years old.
While the FDA has given full approval to Pfizer vaccines for people 16 years and older, state officials haven’t announced a requirement for that age bracket — although Newsom has hinted at staggering in mandates by age groups once more full approvals are made.
State public health officials said the mandates could kick in either January or July, depending on when full authorizations are given.
Since Newsom’s announcement, waves of parents have been showing up to local school board meetings to oppose the expected mandate.
Some of them are concerned about the safety of the vaccine, its effectiveness and argue that children aren’t at high risk of the virus.
Shortly after the mandate announcement, some parents took to protesting at local school boards — raising concerns about the vaccine’s potential impact on children.
Concerns are so high that some local parents said they’re considering pulling their kids out of school if the mandate goes into effect.
Other parents have voiced support for the mandate at school board meetings and said it will protect their kids.
At a news briefing last week, Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state’s Health and Human Services Agency, said those vaccine clinics at schools could come by the end of November.
“There are some schools that have partnered with pharmacies or health care providers,” Ghaly said.
Lee, the community clinic physician, said he’s already been talking with local school districts about potentially setting up vaccination sites for kids and their families.
“I think there’s excitement about possibilities,” Lee said, adding it’s time to start planning the vaccine clinics at schools. “If you think about the math, if you start vaccinating now, most kids would be able to finish their primary vaccine series prior to Christmas break
The state’s vaccine appointment website, known as MyTurn, will offer appointments and walk-in shots for children 5 to 11 years old starting Thursday.
In a Monday newsletter, Santa Ana Unified School District Superintendent Jerry Almendarez said the district — one of the biggest in the county — will work with state and local health agencies to plan how to make vaccines available for children in Santa Ana.
“Our goal is for our school sites to serve as vaccination clinics to help ensure equitable access across the SAUSD community,” reads his newsletter.
In a Wednesday text message, district spokesperson Fermin Leal said while no vaccine clinics for kids are scheduled yet at district schools, they are working with the OC Health Care Agency to set up clinics at elementary schools as soon as possible.
He added that more information would be available in “coming days.”
The Orange County Department of Education announced last month they had no plans to host vaccine clinics at local schools and are encouraging people to get vaccinated through the county Health Care Agency, pharmacies or medical providers.
”Schools and districts are certainly welcome to pursue those opportunities with the state or with the HCA or other providers,” said Ian Hanigan, a spokesperson for the department on Wednesday.
Some districts like Irvine Unified School District are also not planning to hold clinics on school campuses at this time.
Annie Brown, a spokesperson with the Irvine Unified School District, said the district will continue working with the city of Irvine which has set up several clinics.
“We have a page on our website, and we continue to provide information to our family with all of the available locations for the vaccine,” she said Wednesday morning.
Brown said the Irvine Unified School District understands that parents on both sides of the issue have feelings regarding the vaccine, but plans to follow the guidelines from the state.
Lee, the chief medical officer at Share Our Selves, said the best way to address vaccine concerns is for doctors to have conversations with families.
“That’s a big piece of this — to answer any questions that a family might have about vaccines,” Lee said. “We definitely are engaging with families about that conversation.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.