SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Scavenger hunts and blow-up animals greeted children at some of California’s vaccination sites Wednesday as children aged 5 to 11 got their first COVID-19 shots a day after the federal government approved kid-size doses of the vaccinations.
One enthusiastic 11-year-old summed up his experience in a word: “Amazing!” said 6th grader Raghab Vist. “I’ve been waiting a really long time to get vaccinated.”
Vist and his father, Hemant, who went to a vaccine clinic in San Jose, spoke of all the things they looked forward to doing again — eating in a restaurant, taking a train and traveling to family favorites like Disneyland. “It’s a very important milestone for us,” his father said.
As part of an ambitious plan to offer coronavirus vaccinations to California’s 3.5 million children in that age group, the state intends to offer the vaccines at locations including school clinics, pharmacies, pediatrician offices and county sites, many of which will launch in the coming days. Health officials said they are expecting 1.2 million initial doses of the pediatric vaccine.
Santa Clara County, the home of Silicon Valley where San Jose is located, starting doling out shots early Wednesday, and appointments quickly booked up. The county expects to receive about 55,000 doses this week and will open additional clinics at 80 school sites and send out mobile vaccine teams to low-income neighborhoods.
“We know that a lot of parents are anxious to get their children vaccinated with the holidays coming up,” said Dr. Jennifer Tong, who oversees the county’s mass vaccination program. “We received our shipment of vaccine yesterday, and we didn’t have any good reason to sit on it. So we said, let’s get this show on the road.”
Many of Santa Clara’s county sites were decorated with kid-friendly motifs like animals and included games like scavenger hunts, while others handed out coloring books, prizes and stickers to newly vaccinated young people.
Some pop-up clinics in Los Angeles County also started giving doses to children on Wednesday, the county department of health said. The county is the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents, including about 900,000 children between 5 and 11 years old.
California’s vaccination website, myturn.ca.gov, is expected to start offering appointments for this age group Thursday. Several other counties, including Contra Costa and Marin in Northern California, planned to begin their rollout at mass vaccination sites this weekend.
California has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, but a vocal minority remain skeptical of both the vaccine and the government’s assurances of its safety. Last month, more than 1,000 people gathered at the state Capitol to protest vaccine mandates.
California has had some of the strictest masking and vaccination requirements in the country, but new cases and hospitalizations have been climbing again. In the last two weeks new cases have risen by 11% and the number of hospitalizations has increased by more than 200. State models predict continued increases in hospitalizations as colder weather and holidays drive people inside.
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last month that California would have the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine mandate for schoolchildren — about 6.7 million public and private school students in the nation’s most populous state — once the federal government has given final approval for the shots. The mandate will be phased in and will likely not take full effect until next July.
Newsom hailed the new availability Wednesday, saying the pandemic “has taken a heavy toll on the well-being of our kids.”
Kid-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cleared two final hurdles Tuesday: a recommendation from advisers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, followed by a green light from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.
The federal government has promised enough vaccine to protect the nation’s 28 million kids in this age group, with many enthusiastic parents rushing to get their younger children inoculated before the holiday season.
Some Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern California will start offering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children as soon as Monday, officials said.
“Now parents can kind of take a collective sigh of relief,” said Dr. Keedra McNeill, a Kaiser pediatrician and mother of two daughters ages 6 and 8.
Kaiser, one of the nation’s largest health care providers, participated in the Pfizer pediatric vaccine trial in Northern California, which found the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 had an efficacy rate of over 90%, said Dr. Nicola Klein, director of the chain’s vaccine study center.
“We’ve been doing clinical trials for 30 years and I feel very comfortable and confident that the clinical trials that were done for these children, children ages 5 to 11 were … done with the same high-quality standards that have been done for all the other vaccines that we’ve been studying for the last 30 years,” she said.
In Marin County, officials expect to be able to vaccinate 1,000 children per day at rotating sites, while Contra Costa County plans to open county clinics Saturday to start doling out the 20,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine expected this week.
“I know a lot of parents have been waiting a long time to be able to get their younger kids vaccinated,” said Diane Burgis, chair of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors. “We’re almost there. If everything goes right, parents will be able to get their children fully vaccinated before the winter holidays.”
Gecker reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Olga R. Rodriguez contributed to this article.