Hartford HealthCare medical professionals vaccinating children
An image from Hartford HealthCare’s Facebook feed shows medical professionals vaccinating younger children on Tuesday. Credit: Screengrab from Facebook / Hartford HealthCare

Connecticut began administering COVID-19 vaccines to children ages 5 to 11 years old Tuesday evening following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanding eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine.

A press release from the CDC said the vaccine was shown to be around 91% effective in the new group of younger children. According to the federal regulators, clinical trials found kids between five and 11 experienced mild side effects similar to adults, the most common of which was a sore arm.

In Connecticut, there are about 277,000 children in the newly-eligible age group, according to a press release from Gov. Ned Lamont’s office. The smaller doses of the vaccine are available through pediatricians, pharmacy chains including CVS, RiteAid and Walgreens as well as some independent pharmacies. The Departments of Public Health and Education also plan to hold school-based clinics across the state.

Lamont said the ability for parents to vaccinate most school-aged children should help to reduce outbreaks and exposures in Connecticut classrooms. He and Dr. Manisha Juthani, state public health commissioner, urged parents to get their kids vaccinated. 

“Keeping students in school has been one of my biggest priorities, and having vaccines available for more kids is an important component of this effort,” Lamont said. “I have heard from all of my public health advisors, and they are clear in their guidance – this vaccine is safe for kids and it works.”

The press release from the governor’s office also included a statement from Dr. Jody Terranova, an immunization representative on the board of Connecticut’s American Academy of Pediatrics chapter. Terranova said the vaccine has already helped to prevent illness in kids 12 and older. 

“Although kids often have milder cases of COVID-19 than adults, they still do get sick – and some children are currently battling long COVID as well,” Terranova said. “Getting this vaccine is the right thing to do to keep our kids and families safe.”

During a live video Tuesday night on Hartford HealthCare’s Facebook page, Keith Grant, APRN and senior director of infection prevention, called the new eligibility a “huge step forward.” Soon after the announcement, a health care worker administered the vaccine to several of the first young children in the state. 

Parents of some of those children participated in a Zoom conference Wednesday morning and told reporters their kids had not experienced any side effects. Reem Nouh, a mom from Simsbury, said her seven-year-old son Kareem had been eager to get the shot ever since the rest of the family was vaccinated. 

“He went to school super excited today, he’s going to tell all his friends. I’m hoping that all the kiddos from last night are an inspiration to their friends, their friends and families and their communities,” Nouh said.

Nouh, who is a pharmacist, said the decision to vaccinate her kids against the disease was a simple one: her and her husband, who is a nurse, felt the benefits of vaccination outweighed the risks and the children wanted to receive the shot. 

But the sentiment is far from universal. KFF COVID-19 Vaccination Monitor, a research project tracking public opinion of the coronavirus vaccine, questioned more than 1,500 U.S. adults in October and found that only about 27% of parents expected to vaccinate their children between 5 and 11 years old when they became eligible. Another 33% planned a “wait and see” approach. According to the survey, more than 70% of parents reported being at least somewhat concerned about side effects in children or worried that not enough was known of its long term effects. 

Asked about those concerns, particularly instances of a heart issue called pericarditis, Grant said the heart inflammation has long been linked to respiratory viruses similar to COVID. Grant said it was unclear whether people who had been vaccinated and later developed pericarditis had also been previously exposed to COVID-19.

“What we do know is — and the discussion was very, very clear over the last few days — is any risk that we’ve seen, if you look at the actual numbers itself, the benefits significantly outweighs the risk,” he said. “It’s a population … that we know does very well with the disease, but we do have a number of kids, unfortunately, that’s been hospitalized with the disease or even more unfortunate we have kids that’s died.”

Nouh said her family made a similar calculation. 

“Really think about it, any decision we make as parents there’s always risks and there always are benefits and you just have to kind of think through that. [Nouh’s son Kareem] wanted this vaccine. We talked about how it works and that was not a concern for him. It was always, ‘I want to get the vaccine as soon as I can’.”