It's the first day children ages 5-11 can get inoculated against COVID-19 and already thousands of appointments have been booked in Santa Clara County, officials said Wednesday.
At Emmanuel Baptist Church, one of the county-run vaccine sites, hundreds of students from kindergarten to fifth grade held onto a parent's arm, eager and anxious for their first shot.
"Shots are basically like putting a needle into your skin so that can freak you out," said Lydia Galush, an 11-year-old from Belmont. "But I was actually a little bit excited when I found out I could get the vaccine."
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Lydia came from Belmont in San Mateo County with her mother and 8-year-old twin siblings to get their first dose of the pediatric vaccine by Pfizer.
"They are not doing the big vaccination sites yet up in San Mateo County, so it was easier to come down here," Lydia's mother Alexandra Schmitt said.
The pediatric vaccine was approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.
The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, a group consisting of nationally acclaimed scientists with expertise in immunization and public health from California and three other states, also concluded that the vaccine is safe and effective - giving governors in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington confirmation to use the vaccine doses on Wednesday.
Santa Clara County is one of the rare counties in the region that started inoculating children Wednesday. San Mateo County, for example, will start vaccination on Saturday. And parents wanting to vaccinate their children in San Francisco are urged to contact their pediatricians before the city has doses available at vaccination sites.
"We've been counting down until they could get vaccinated," Schmitt said. "I feel like the risks of the actual disease are worse than the vaccination is, so we really wanted to get the shot."
So far, Pfizer is the only manufacturer to get CDC approval for children's vaccines and the dose is a third of what it was for adults.
"(It) was shown to have similar efficacy and very low risk similar to that in the adult population," said Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
While children in this age group were not heavily infected by COVID-19, Tong said getting them vaccinated was a critical step in combatting the disease.
"Severe infections among children have been rare. We certainly have had some children hospitalized due to COVID," Tong said. "But fortunately, it's been significantly less than the elderly population, so that's probably not the primary driving force for parents to get their kids vaccinated."
The reasons to get children vaccinated, Tong said, was to prevent the spread of COVID to others, prevent even more disruption to their schooling and other aspects of their life, and because the effects of long COVID are still being studied.
"We're still learning a lot about the long-term impact of COVID even among those who have mild or even infections without a lot of symptoms," Tong said. "And so, the prevention of infection in this age group may prevent those longer-term effects that we're still learning about."
The Galush siblings said they were excited to get inoculated because of the prospects of going back to school without masks -- a sentiment shared by many of their friends.
"I think they're all pretty excited (to get vaccinated)," Lydia said. "One is getting the shot on Friday, I think. And, and one of my other friends I think was a bit jealous because her mom has not made an appointment yet."
Clara Galush said she was going to tell her friends at school that it did not hurt.
"It feels better than the flu shot actually," Clara said. She got her flu shot last week. And their brother, Henry who is in third grade, said he was excited to go out to a restaurant to eat -- something his parents have not let him do since the pandemic's start because it required mask removal indoors.
Tong said there may be some hesitancy among parents, even those who are vaccinated, to have their children get the shot, but she urged them to look at the studies by independent researchers and the CDC.
"Not everyone has to come on day one. And so it's perfectly fine to take some time to to get educated to review the research," Tong said. "But no one has declared the pandemic as being over and so it is still important to take some precautions and not return completely back to the norm."
Hesitant parents are also urged to tune into a town hall hosted by the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the county's Public Health Department and Stanford Health Care on Monday at 6 p.m. to answer questions and provide additional information to families regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Parents/guardians can attend the virtual town hall by going to https://sccoe.to/YouthVaxTH.
Pediatric vaccinations at county sites are by appointment and at walk-in or pop-up sites. Tong said the county is updating appointment availability multiple times a day, so it shouldn't be hard for families to find availability.
The county will also start vaccinating children on school grounds soon, especially in low-income areas where parents may be unable to take time off work to take their children to get vaccinated.
To book an appointment or learn more about pediatric vaccines in Santa Clara County, people can visit www.sccfreevax.org.