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Pediatrician sees 'more enthusiasm' for vaccinating children than other age groups

Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is shown to be extremely effective in young teenagers.
Esteban Felix
Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is shown to be extremely effective in young teenagers.

Springfield continues to have high infection rates among the young

Health officials in Springfield, Massachusetts are encouraging a COVID-19 vaccine shot for children, but the local health department will not be standing up pediatric vaccine clinics. WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

The Springfield Department of Health and Human Services will not be vaccinating children ages 5-11 for COVID-19 at its neighborhood clinics or pop-up vaccination sites because the local health department has been supplied with only the Moderna vaccine, which has not been approved for children, said Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris.

“We’ve had individuals come into the clinic and bring their children, which we redirect,” Caulton-Harris said. “We will not be doing the 5-11 year olds based on availability (of vaccine) to the board of health.”

There are pharmacies, medical practices, state-supported vaccination sites, and mobile clinics where the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine is available in Springfield, said Caulton-Harris.

“We also recommend that our youth between the ages of 5-11 and parents do reach out to their pediatricians if they have questions, concerns,” she said.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services said last week that the pediatric vaccine would be available at more than 500 locations across the state. The agency recommended that if parents want to have their child vaccinated by their primary care physician, they should call the doctor’s office directly. Otherwise, vaccination appointments can be made using the state’s online VaxFinder tool.

Speaking at a meeting of the Springfield City Council’s COVID-19 Response Committee, Dr Crystal Wittcopp, medical director at Baystate General Pediatrics, said the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was shown in clinical trials to be safe and effective when given to children ages 5-11.

She said parents have been asking about possible side effects.

“They seem to get sore arms like the adults, they seem to have some increased chance of having a flu-like illness the next day that lasts a short time period, but other than that there is nothing special coming out that seems different,” said Wittcopp.

Springfield recorded an increase in COVID-19 cases last week for the first time since mid-September. Of the 259 confirmed cases for the week of Oct. 31st, 126 were people under the age of 20.

Caulton-Harris said there has been an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the Springfield Public Schools.

At the beginning of this school year, there were vaccination clinics held in each of the city’s public high schools and middle schools. The school department has not announced any plans for clinics in elementary schools.

Wittcopp said she has noticed “more enthusiasm” from parents for vaccinating children than there was when the vaccine became available for adolescents.

“I think this is a key opportunity for us to get the adults vaccinated at the same time,” said Wittcopp, who relayed the story about an unvaccinated mother she met, who realized she would need to get the shot in order to persuade her children to be vaccinated.

Springfield’s COVID-19 vaccination rate remains near the bottom in the state with just 52 percent of its eligible residents fully-vaccinated.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.