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Cowlitz County clinics, pharmacies prepare to offer COVID vaccines to kids

COVID-19 vaccination record cards

A stack of blank COVID-19 vaccination record cards sit on a table during a vaccine clinic in Longview.

Cowlitz County clinics and pharmacies are preparing to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children 5- to 11-years-old likely starting next week after federal and state approvals Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Washington State Department of Health on Wednesday expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include children ages 5 to 11 after recommendations from the Western States review group and federal agencies.

State vaccine providers are set to receive an initial shipment of about 315,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine, which could provide a single dose to about 46% of Washington’s 680,000 children 5- to 11-years-old. The pediatric vaccine is a smaller dose than the vaccine approved for those 12 and older, but still requires two doses given three weeks apart.

State hospital officials voice concerns as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations flatten

Dr. Steve Krager, county deputy health officer, said he hopes parents choose to vaccinate their children.

“It’s a great thing for Cowlitz County and especially families with kids in that age group,” Krager said. “It’s been something that I know a lot of people have been eagerly awaiting, and now it’s here. So we’re excited kids in this age group will now be able to be vaccinated and protected against COVID-19.”

While children often have more mild cases of COVID-19, they still can become severely ill and be hospitalized, according to the Department of Health. More than 650 children 18 years old and younger have died of COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If this was a brand new disease that only targeted children and people saw those statistics, they would be alarmed that something new was causing serious illness,” Krager said. “I think we’re framing it as not as bad as it is for someone who is 80, which is true, but if you’re reframing it and see the impacts, it becomes at least in my perspective, clear why to vaccinate kids.”

Krager said expanding vaccinations may spur families with older children to get the shot as well. Since early October, teens 12 to 17 years old have the highest case rate of any age group in Cowlitz County. The group has the lowest vaccination rate, with 33.7% fully vaccinated compared to 52.2% overall.

State, county COVID-19 vaccination rates up overall, low among teens

Vaccines also will allow children to stay in school if exposed to COVID-19, rather than having to quarantine, Krager said.

“It’s going to not only protect kids, but just slow rates in general in our community which will protect other people as well,” he said.

Parents may need to be patient while looking for appointments in the next couple weeks, but the state will certainly have enough supply to meet demand, Krager said.

Longview’s Child and Adolescent Clinic’s vaccine shipment hopefully will arrive later this week or next week, said Pediatrician Wes Hendrickson. The clinic will offer the vaccines to those who want them before transitioning to providing it during regular checkups, he said.

“We’ve had a lot of parents asking a lot about it and who are excited to get it,” Hendrickson said.

Although children are at lower risk for serious illness than adults, they still get sick and the virus can cause respiratory problems or prolonged symptoms, Hendrickson said. Possible long-term effects from the virus are more concerning than any risks from vaccination, he said.

In the history of vaccinations, there haven’t been any with major side effects that happen after six weeks at the most, Hendrickson said.

Cowlitz County COVID-19 rates leveling off

PeaceHealth plans to provide the vaccine at its pediatric and family medicine clinics, and will have more information once the organization has its vaccine allotment, said Randy Querin, spokesperson.

Kaiser Permanente also will offer the pediatric vaccine by appointment at its Longview clinic to members and non-members, said spokesperson Debbie Karman. Appointments will open up online once the clinic confirms its vaccine supply, she said.

Pharmacies, including Walgreens, CVS and Safeway, are set to receive the vaccines through the federal pharmacy program.

The state Department of Health updated its Vaccine Locator tool to include an option to filter for “Pfizer-BioNTech Pediatric” vaccine, but many locations won’t be listed right away, according to the department.

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