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Gov. Baker says COVID-19 vaccine is available for kids and he doesn't 'anticipate supply issues'

Now that federal officials have given a green light to Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11, Massachusetts parents are able to start seeking appointments and more time slots will be added in days ahead, Gov. Charlie Baker said.

Speaking Thursday from Boston Children's Hospital, Baker said pediatric vaccine doses started shipping to Massachusetts last week, and state officials "don't anticipate any supply issues."

"We look forward to working with our partners in the health care community to make sure that every family has easy access to these vaccines," he said.

The eligibility of younger children to receive a vaccine marks another milestone in efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.

"We've come a long way," Baker said. "A year ago, we hadn't received any doses of vaccine and we were in the middle of fighting a fall surge in cases and hospitalizations. Today, vaccines are widely available across the commonwealth and millions of people in Massachusetts have stepped up to get vaccinated, and as a result, everyone who gets vaccinated is protected from getting very sick from COVID-19. In many respects, it's that simple."

According to state health officials, more than 80% of Massachusetts youth aged 12-17 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 92% of adults have received at least one dose. Department of Public Health data from Wednesday showed a total of 4,743,156 Bay Staters fully vaccinated.

Dr. Kevin Churchwell, the president of Boston Children's Hospital, said that vaccinating children against COVID-19 "will protect them and will slow the spread of this disease to the unvaccinated and to other very at-risk individuals."

"Vaccinating children will reduce the toll of this virus on everyone," Churchwell said. "The availability of the vaccine in younger children offers a tangible opportunity for all of our children to return to more normal daily activities and routines, and that's critical to their well-being."

Children ages 5 to 11 will receive a 10 microgram vaccine dose, compared to the 30 microgram dose for youth 12 and up, said Dr. Frinny Polanco Walters, an attending physician in the department of adolescent medicine at Boston Children's.

She said the smaller dose is effective, and that safety data from trials "showed there were no serious adverse reactions related to this vaccine," with headaches, pain at the injection site and fatigue the most common reactions.

Polanco Walters said that while children "overall don't get as sick as adults with COVID-19," they are "not immune to serious outcomes" and some studies have shown they can spread the virus to family members who might face higher risks.

Dr. Frinny Polanco Walters, an attending physician in the department of adolescent medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, speaking Thursday. (Chris Lisinski/SHNS)
Dr. Frinny Polanco Walters, an attending physician in the department of adolescent medicine at Boston Children's Hospital, speaking Thursday. (Chris Lisinski/SHNS)

"My message to parents is to get their questions answered," she said. "It is important to know that this vaccine, we're not forcing anyone to get the vaccine. We're highly recommending the vaccine because we have seen that the benefits far outweigh the risk."

Baker said more than 500 vaccine sites are so far offering the two-dose Pfizer pediatric vaccine, including pediatricians' offices, pharmacies, community health centers, hospitals and clinics sponsored by both the state and local health boards.

State-supported clinics "will offer low-sensory vaccinations for children with disabilities," according to to the administration, which said pediatric vaccines will also be offered at "non-traditional, youth friendly locations" including the Discovery Museum in Acton, the Museum of Science in Boston, The Springfield Museums and the EcoTarium in Worcester.

"With this mixed model of providers, nearly every Massachusetts child lives within 30 minutes of a vaccine clinic," Baker said.

Sites, including some with available appointments, are listed on the state's VaxFinder website. The Executive Office of Health and Human Services said that additional appointment slots will come online "in the coming days" and that "many locations will be booking appointments out weeks in advance."

The governor said parents seeking appointments should "call their pediatrician to start," and that those having trouble accessing appointments through VaxFinder can dial 2-1-1 to connect with the COVID-19 Vaccine Resource Line.

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The hotline, which is available in English and Spanish and has translators available for approximately 100 other languages, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

As Baker spoke Thursday morning, pediatric vaccine availability differed across locations.

The first available time slots at clinics at the Museum of Science and at the Springfield Museums were on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 13, while there was no availability for young kids' shots at a state-sponsored Danvers site until Thursday, Nov. 18.

An attempt to book at a Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment site was met with the notice, "There are currently no appointments available. We are experiencing high demand for appointments. We apologize for the inconvenience." On its website, CVS offered appointments on Tuesday, Nov. 16 in Hopkinton, on Friday, Nov. 12 in Webster and said there were no available appointments in pharmacies nearest to Haverhill.

State health and education officials last week wrote to school leaders, encouraging them to hold on-site clinics for younger kids. Some districts have started announcing opportunities, including a walk-in COVID-19/flu shot clinic from 3 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. this Friday at the former Westport Junior/Senior High School building, and four after-school clinics — on Mondays in November, December and January — that Littleton plans to hold in its middle school cafeteria.

The availability of vaccines for younger kids could, in time, make more schools eligible to lift the state's indoor mask mandate for K-12 schools. The universal masking policy is in place through at least Jan. 15, but schools that can demonstrate a student and staff vaccination rate of at least 80% can apply to the state to lift the mask requirement for vaccinated individuals, if they choose to do so.

Baker said the Jan. 15 date "is designed specifically to give a lot of schools and school districts the opportunity to either continue to get kids vaccinated who are already eligible, to get to that 80% threshold — or some of the adults as well — and to now have an opportunity to get kids from the age of 5 to the age of 11 vaccinated as well."

On Thursday morning, Republican gubernatorial candidate Geoff Diehl's campaign sent out a "Women for Diehl" email from his wife, KathyJo Boss, that raised the idea that "state government is using the mask mandate as a way to push parents into making the decision to vaccinate their children" and asked recipients to "join our campaign in pushing back against these continued mandates on our children."

In an Oct. 28 edition of the national Kaiser Family Foundation's COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, 27% of parents of 5- to 11-year-old kids said they wanted to get their child vaccinated "right away" once a shot was authorized and available, while 33% said they planned to wait and see, 30% said they "definitely" would not and 5% said they would do so only if their school required it.

Acting Public Health Commissioner Margret Cooke encouraged parents with questions about the vaccine to seek out answers from a trusted health care provider. She said Massachusetts has "a long and successful history of vaccinating children against disease," with 95% of kids receiving their childhood vaccines by the time they enter kindergarten.

"We've seen over the past year that vaccines are safe and they're incredibly effective," Cooke said. "They're the best way that we can protect our friends and our families and our loved ones."

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