Alba Kerr gingerly climbed onto her mother’s lap, a plastic toy in each hand, when it was her turn to get her first COVID-19 vaccine dose Tuesday afternoon. A Seattle Children’s nurse smiled at the 3-year-old and counted to three before folding up the hem of Alba’s skirt and poking the needle into her leg.
“All done!” Alba’s mother, Rachel Kerr, exclaimed a second later. Alba looked up. No tears.
She was one of 10 children who this week became the first infants and toddlers in the state to receive a COVID vaccine shot. After multiple delays, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this weekend signed off on Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for kids as young as 6 months old. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup also approved emergency use authorization for the shots over the weekend.
The shots’ regulatory approval came as a relief for many, but concerns remain for families still wrestling with mixed feelings over the vaccines. COVID vaccination rates for younger children have lagged older age groups. And supply of the lower-dose shots will be tight at first, so appointments could be hard to secure.
Yet, more than two years into the pandemic, parents and guardians now have another option to protect their kids.
“I know for a lot of our families, this is a day they have been waiting for, asking for and advocating for,” Children’s CEO Dr. Jeff Sperring said at a news conference before the vaccines were administered.
Dr. Ruth McDonald, the hospital’s chief medical operations officer, has been leading the hospital’s COVID vaccine rollout. She teared up as she watched each child receive the shot.
“To have the little ones get vaccinated is really touching,” she said. “It’s just pretty historic that we were able to get these vaccines developed so quickly. What a day.”
Dana and Michael Bamshad, who were at Children’s with their daughter, Marlowe, said they were filled with relief Tuesday. While kids at Marlowe’s day care continue to wear masks during the day, the couple is grateful vaccination is now also an option.
“She’s absolutely thrilled,” Dana Bamshad said of her 3-year-old, who twirled and danced around the waiting area before her turn. “She recognizes we’ve been supportive of other adults and children getting their vaccine.”
While some parents have been anxiously awaiting the shots, others have said in national surveys that they plan to hold off on vaccinating their kids.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey published in May, about 1 in 5 parents of kids under 5 are eager to get their kid immunized right away. About 38% wanted to wait a while to see how the vaccine is working for others, while 27% said they will “definitely not” get their child vaccinated.
Children at that age don’t get serious cases of COVID as often as adults, and over half of parents surveyed said they don’t yet have enough information about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness.
Vaccination rates among younger age groups have lagged compared to adult rates. In Washington, about 37% of kids between 5 and 11 years old have gotten their first dose, compared with nearly 80% in those 18 to 34 years old — with even higher rates in older adult populations, according to the state Department of Health’s COVID data dashboard.
Still, local and national health officials caution that COVID can be dangerous and even fatal for children, especially those who are immunocompromised, and much is still unknown about long-term effects. Researchers say children can also spread the disease to others.
Washington has more than 460,000 children under 5, though a federal delay in vaccine distribution will likely make the shots harder to get immediately, DOH said in a statement Tuesday. Some vaccines are expected to be delivered this week, with more inventory arriving in the next few weeks and months, the statement said.
The Pfizer shot for babies and toddlers is about one-tenth of the adult dose and comes in three doses, McDonald said. The Moderna dose makes up about a fourth of the adult dose and is administered in two shots.
Children’s will open vaccination appointment slots this week at seattlechildrens.org. Sites run by Public Health – Seattle & King County will start vaccinating kids between 6 months and 5 years old Thursday and Friday, by appointment only.
Local pharmacies, including Bartell Drugs, also expect to receive shots for the youngest eligible age group later this week, though it’s common for pharmacies to restrict appointments to children over 3 years old.
Parents and guardians for those younger than 3 are encouraged to check with their pediatricians to find providers for that age group.
Families can also find vaccination sites through DOH’s tool, vaccinelocator.doh.wa.gov, which has filters to search for locations offering pediatric doses.
People with questions or who could use help scheduling an appointment can call the state’s COVID hotline at 800-525-0127 and press # — or call its alternate phone number, 888-856-5816.
“We wanted her to get vaccinated for the family,” said Rachel Kerr, Alba’s mother who’s also 34 weeks pregnant. “It’s just another way to keep her safe.”