Atlanta children line up for COVID-19 vaccine

Teddy Lucas, 10, holds hands with his mom Katy Lucas as he receives his first COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday at a Viral Solutions drive-up site in Decatur. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Teddy Lucas, 10, holds hands with his mom Katy Lucas as he receives his first COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday at a Viral Solutions drive-up site in Decatur. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Phone lines at pediatric offices were busy. Lines formed at vaccination clinics – even before the sun rose Wednesday morning.

Katy Lucas dropped everything when she heard Viral Solutions, an Atlanta-based COVID-19 testing and vaccination company, was administering vaccines to children as young as 5 – but only by appointment, and they were going fast.

She managed to secure an appointment at 11:45 a.m. at a Viral Solutions location in the Decatur area. She picked up her son, Teddy, 10, from school for a quick trip to get his first pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine. He was back at his desk within about an hour.

Across the state, pediatricians, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other sites were either starting to administer the vaccine — or getting ready to. With Tuesday’s official OK of the Pfizer children’s shot, pediatricians, pharmacies, departments of health and other outlets were scheduling vaccinations or beginning to deliver them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the way Tuesday for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be authorized for children ages 5 to 11, a moment many parents have been eagerly awaiting.

By 1 p.m., Viral Solutions had administered 900 pediatric doses of the vaccine for children at their 11 drive-up locations in metro Atlanta, which include locations set up outside Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Their first shipment of 1,200 pediatric doses of the vaccine was expected to run out by the end of the day. A company spokesman said they are hoping to receive a larger shipment next week.

“This is something we have been waiting for for a long time, and this gives you a nice peace of mind to keep your children safe,” said Lucas of Atlanta.

Lucas’ older son, Frank who is 13, got fully vaccinated over the summer.

DeKalb Pediatric Center, a large practice in the Decatur area, plans to start vaccinating this younger age group Thursday. Dr. Hugo Scornik, a Conyers pediatrician who leads the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said his office has decided to hold off the start of administering the vaccine until next week. A first dose this week would require the second dose to coincide with Thanksgiving week, not an ideal time for many families who might be traveling.

Meanwhile, The Georgia Department of Public local health departments have not yet started administering the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for the younger children either. They need to review official clinical guidance from the CDC for administering and storing the new, smaller-dose vaccines.

Georgia has almost 1 million residents between 5 and 11 who are now newly eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

In expressing support for authorizing vaccines for younger children, members of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices talked about vaccination helping stop the spread of the COVID-19 as well as keeping kids in school.

Teddy Lucas, 10, shows off his vaccinated sticker just after receiving his first COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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Credit: Ben Gray

The committee members questioned data presented by manufacturer Pfizer and the CDC on potential adverse effects from the vaccine, but ultimately agreed the benefits outweigh any risks in this age group. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC reported 8,300 children in this age group have been hospitalized for COVID-19, and at least 94 have died. Among those hospitalized, approximately one-third had no pre-existing condition that made them more susceptible to the virus.

Clinical trials Pfizer conducted in children ages 5-11 found the vaccine to be 90.7% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19.

While children who catch the coronavirus tend to have milder symptoms than adults, in rare instances they can have severe complications, including long COVID or a rare inflammatory condition called MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome.

“This moment is huge,” said Yvette Roshto of Atlanta. “Just to be able to travel, and my kids are both in school and for them to protect their teachers and do their part to keep everyone safe.”

Her daughter, Meena, who is 10, said she looked forward to traveling and eating inside at restaurants. But above everything else, she said, “I don’t want to get my friends sick at school if I get Covid.”

After her children got vaccinated, Roshto snapped a photo of her two children holding their vaccination cards with her smartphone. She sent the photo to her husband in a text with one word: finally