Demand has been strong so far in Marin County for the pediatric Covid vaccine, newly available for young children this month. Authorities are hoping that parents, the vast majority of whom have been vaccinated, will show up in the same number to vaccinate their children aged 5 to 11. But some parents in West Marin, where childhood immunization rates have historically lagged behind, may be taking a long time to make the decision.
“We are seeing significant demand, which is reassuring,” Dr Matt Willis, county public health official, told Light. “But the timing is a little tight as we are really looking forward to getting our kids vaccinated as the holidays approach.”
County health officials began administering the Pfizer pediatric vaccine on November 3, the day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made 5-year-olds eligible for emergencies. Last week, pediatricians began receiving self-administered doses. More than 3,000 children in this age group received the vaccine in Marin in the first week they were eligible, and this week the number has risen to nearly 7,000.
This is a good performance (25% of all eligible children in two weeks), but it will need to continue in order to combat the latest increase in cases, which public health officials say could increase when the families gather inside for the holidays. “The winter surge appears to be potentially real,” said Dr Willis. “My concern is that the factors contributing to this increase will now persist over the next several months.”
Severe symptoms of Covid are rare in children under 11, and although hospitalizations have increased for the age group during the summer outbreak, deaths remain extremely rare. Nonetheless, said Dr Willis, vaccinating young children will help alleviate the latest wave of infections. Until this month, the 20,000 Marin children aged 5 to 11 were unvaccinated and none have yet received a second dose, which is given three weeks after the first. More than 40 percent of the county’s infections among the unvaccinated are among children, although children make up only 8 percent of the county’s population.
“It’s really a potential reservoir for the virus, to find a whole cohort of vulnerable people,” Dr Willis said. “The way to close this gap is to immunize our children. “
At West Marin School last week, county health officials set up a clinic in the gymnasium with enough vaccine for 150 pediatric doses. By the end of the day, they had administered 93. The children were able to choose toys and vaccine-themed coloring pages, and “Finding Nemo” was shown on a large-screen TV as they went. waited the 15 minutes needed to watch for side effects.
As with any childhood vaccine, a few children were noticeably nervous. “I was really scared in the car, and I was looking left and right like ‘Is somebody going to jump in the car with a needle and stick it in my arm?’” Said Alexa Heftye, a fourth grade student from San Anselmo. “I was actually pulling my mom back when we walked in here. “
But Fletcher Lucanic, a fourth-grader at Bolinas School, was not disturbed by the shooting. “It was kind of like you just got pinched,” he said.
Galen Leeds, a resident of Tomales, said he was relieved that his son, Corbin, could now get the vaccine, which would allow them to travel without worry. Corbin, a preschooler at Little Sparrows in Point Reyes Station, turned 5 the day before the clinic. “We will feel a little better to go visit my parents in Colorado,” said Mr. Leeds.
On the other end of the age range, Gael Aceves, an 11-year-old student from Tomales Elementary, said he was very worried about having Covid in school. Now, he said, “the chances of getting sick are much lower.”
The relatively low pediatric dose of 10 micrograms, one-third of what adults receive, reduces mild reactions like sore arms and flu-like symptoms, and the county has had no serious side effects. The Pfizer clinical trial found that the lower dose was 91% effective in preventing symptomatic infections in children.
When the pediatric vaccine obtains full regulatory approval, it will become one of the regular childhood vaccines required to enter a public or private school in California. According to school officials, this could happen by next fall. None of West Marin’s school districts plan to require immunizations for children under the age of 11 before the state mandate arrives.
The county would welcome a term, Dr Willis said, but he hopes most parents will make the decision themselves, before any demands are made. “We don’t have that long and we really need to optimize the current situation, which helps parents navigate that choice,” he said.
Marin was once known for his relatively low childhood immunization rates, with many parents requesting exemptions based on their personal beliefs. The under-vaccination enclaves continued in West Marin until California removed the personal creed exemption for childhood vaccines in 2015.
During the 2013-2014 school year, the San Geronimo Valley Elementary School, home to the Open Classroom program, had one of the lowest up-to-date kindergarten immunization rates in the county, at 16% . Almost all unvaccinated families in the valley had filed personal belief exemptions, and only Marin Waldorf and Marin Montessori schools had lower rates.
Two years later, after Senate Bill 277 eliminated personal belief exemptions, vaccination rates improved across the county. Ninety-four percent of the open class were vaccinated during the 2015-2016 year, all but one student who was medically exempt.
“Once this law was enacted, a lot of people’s beliefs weren’t as strong anymore,” said John Carroll, superintendent of the Lagunitas school district. “The people I thought were going to private school or home school or whatever, they showed up with their vaccination records. “
It’s not just SB 277 that has improved vaccine uptake in Marin over the past decade, Dr Willis said. He suggested that the resurgence of preventable infectious diseases, which inspired the law, also prompted Marin parents to “soul-searching” before the legislature put it in writing. In 2010, Marin experienced the state’s largest pertussis outbreak, which is easily prevented with a vaccine and a booster.
“It changed the culture towards more vaccinations,” Dr. Willis said. “When SB 277 arrived, we were already at around 88%. Much of this gain was achieved while it was still a prime environment. “
The trend continued and the Covid underscored the urgency of vaccination for many parents. Mr Carroll said nearly all middle school students in his two districts have been vaccinated, and early anecdotal reports suggest pediatric vaccination sites have been popular with families in the valley. Although personal belief exemptions are available for the Covid vaccine, Mr Carroll said he expects few parents to request them.
“It’s a pretty big change from the way things used to be,” Carroll said. “West Marin, especially in the San Geronimo Valley, was famous for its anti-vaxx sentiment, at least in 2015.”
But that feeling has not gone away. Madeline Hope, director of the Tomales Bay Youth Center, said the predominant attitude among parents she knows is one of relief and enthusiasm, but “there are always these people in our community who are like, ‘ I will never get my children vaccinated for anything. . You can’t force me.
These deeply held anti-vaccine beliefs are found in a small percentage, said Dr Anna O’Malley, who practices family medicine at the Coastal Health Alliance. A larger group may be made up of parents who are themselves vaccinated but are reluctant to see their children get vaccinated.
“A lot of parents have said, ‘I want my kids to get the shot, I just don’t want to be the first in line for that,’ Dr O’Malley said. “It’s not necessarily a scientific process, but there is something about positive peer pressure. It’s easier to do something when you know your children’s classmates have had this positive experience.
Glenda Mejia, the family lawyer at West Marin School, witnessed this effect in action while speaking to a parent at the immunization clinic last week. The woman’s teens were already vaccinated, but she was initially worried about her 6-year-old. “All day long, you could see the worry on her face,” Ms. Mejia said. “But she got the hang of it at the end of the day.”
Marin has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates in the country, with around 94% of the eligible population having received at least one dose. More than half of the county’s seniors have received a booster, which the CDC has cleared for vulnerable populations.
“The high vaccination rates in our community mean that most of us in Marin view this decision as whether or not we want to extend to our children the protection that we have already chosen to obtain for ourselves,” said Dr. Willis.