Melanie Mallory was so eager for her young children to be vaccinated against COVID-19 that she enrolled her son in a clinical trial last January, when he was just 8 months old.
Her 3-year-old had to wait until Tuesday, when the Salt Lake County Health Department started offering the scaled-down doses of the coronavirus vaccine that received final federal approval for infants as young as 6 months old over the Juneteenth holiday weekend.
“We’ve spent the pandemic being very cautious,” said Mallory, a research scientist in infectious diseases, including COVID-19, for a private company. “I know that the risk, like the frequency of high risk to children, is low. But there are risks to children. So yeah, it was a relief to get the vaccine.”
Given her field, Mallory said she had access to data and medical experts to answer her questions about the shots, information other parents would likely get from their family doctors. Still, she said it was “a hard decision” to enroll her youngest son, Tai, in the vaccine trial as the omicron variant of the virus raged through the state.
“I really debated about a trial. And then I saw the rates of omicron going up, and the hospitalization rates going up for kids in that age group,” Mallory said, as COVID-19 cases reached record-breaking levels. “I was really hesitant but as I weighed that omicron was everywhere, I enrolled my child.”
Tai, now 1, “had very few side effects” during the trial for the Moderna vaccine, she said. “Maybe a little redness after the first dose and maybe some irritability. But I didn’t notice too much so I was actually thinking that he had the placebo.”
Mallory only found out last week her son got the same two-dose regimen as 3-year-old James started Tuesday. Although a series of three, even smaller doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines also has been approved, she wanted James to be fully vaccinated against the virus as soon as possible as new versions of omicron are spreading.
So did nearly all of the parents who brought their young children to the county health department’s immunization clinics in downtown Salt Lake City, Sandy, South Salt Lake, West Jordan and West Valley City, spokesman Nicholas Rupp said. By mid-afternoon just seven of 239 of the COVID-19 shots administered were Pfizer, he said.
It takes 11 weeks for children 6 months old to 4 years old to complete the three-dose series of the Pfizer vaccine, with the second shot 21 days after the first and third shot two months later, Rupp said, while children 6 months to 5 years old are ready for a second dose of Moderna vaccine in 28 days.
While the clinics have been busy, the interest so far is less than when Pfizer shots were first approved last November for children 5-11 years old, he said. That’s been the case each time a new age group became eligible, Rupp said, but an employee came in on the Monday holiday to receive the vaccine shipment.
The parents who brought their children in Tuesday morning “were so enthusiastic and excited. This is a group of parents that have been waiting for months and months to vaccinate their littlest children” he said, adding it “was really important to us that we provide this to parents as soon as we could.”
The Utah Department of Health ordered more than 32,000 doses last week from the federal government for the final age group to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, including 7,900 for Salt Lake County. The other doses are being distributed throughout the state, to local health departments, private providers and some pharmacies.
The state health department said the shots should be available over the next several days to weeks.
“We encourage parents to reach out to their child’s health care provider if they have questions about the COVID-19 vaccines and to find out when they can get their children vaccinated. Please be patient with vaccine providers over the next couple of weeks as they receive vaccines and prepare to administer them to our youngest children,” said Dr. Leisha Nolen, a pediatrician and the state epidemiologist.
The clinical trials showed that the vaccines are safe for young children, and can keep them “from getting sick or suffering from long-term impacts of COVID-19,” Nolen said. “Children have not been exempt from this pandemic.”
She said last winter’s omicron wave “sent a number of our very youngest kids to the hospital, one-quarter of whom ended up in intensive care. Most tragically, COVID-19 has killed more children younger than 5 than flu would during two normal flu seasons. I think we can all agree, this is tragic. We need to help keep kids out of the hospital and now we can through vaccination. ”
There is a list of vaccine providers on the state’s coronavirus webpage but parents should check vaccines.gov to verify which have the younger pediatric vaccines or call their children’s doctor or local health department for information on scheduling a vaccination.
The Salt Lake County Health Department, which saw young children from as far away as St. George on Tuesday, is setting up appointments online for the shots at vaccinate.utah.gov or by calling 385-468-7468. Walk-ins are welcome, although there may be a wait, Rupp said.
The county continues to hold free vaccination clinics at various locations that primarily target underserved communities, he said.