By O. Ricardo Pimentel
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, approved COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 6 months to 5 years old.
Now the Milwaukee Health Department and the 16th Street Community Health Centers are actively inviting families to bring in their children in that age group for the vaccine – the city Health Department on a walk-in basis and Sixteenth Street primarily by appointment.
The same questions that confronted the age groups for whom the vaccines were already available are being raised. These go beyond where your child can get the vaccine to should your child be vaccinated.
And the short answer is: Yes.
Just like the vaccines made available for the older groups, they should do so because these newer vaccines are safe, effective and keep the vaccinated COVID-free, medical experts say.
But there’s another reason: For the moment, these vaccines are free.
“That’s not likely to last indefinitely,” said Dr. Heather Paradis, a pediatrician and the Health Department’s chief medical officer and deputy commissioner of medical services for the city.
Why are the vaccines free at the moment? The CDC explains, “Vaccines were paid for with taxpayer dollars and will be given free of charge to all people living in the United States, regardless of insurance or immigration status.”
That means that there is a window of opportunity, said Paradis, particularly “for people who are uninsured or underinsured (and) who don’t want to receive a medical bill.”
‘It’s the best for them’
But that’s just the financial reason. The other compelling reasons to get the vaccine involve the health and safety of individuals and, consequently, the entire community.
This is a point stressed by both Paradis and Dr. Marcos De La Cruz, director of pediatrics at Sixteenth Street.
“It’s the same idea we’ve had in the past. … The sooner we can provide protection, it’s the best for them,” said De La Cruz.
It’s not just about self protection for the child. It’s about prevention generally.
“Children don’t always display the symptoms, but they can spread the disease,” De La Cruz said.
Paradis echoes this.
“We know vaccinating this age group will help to decrease transmission and the severity of the illness,” she said.
That means, she added, fewer days of missed day care for the children, fewer school days lost for siblings they’ve exposed and fewer lost workdays for parents with sick children. In particular, vaccinating this younger age group represents protection for family members who are more susceptible to severe symptoms, especially grandparents.
The notion that young children need not be vaccinated because they are not susceptible is simply not true.
Both Paradis and De La Cruz say they’ve come across COVID diagnosis for children in the 6 months to 5-year age group.
And there’s this: Just as with older children and adults, “long COVID” represents a still not fully understood threat.
Long COVID, also known as post-COVID conditions, refers to the long-term effects that some infected with COVID can experience.
Paradis said children can also have longer-term effects such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating. The loss of taste or smell may last longer.
For some families, the CDC approval of COVID vaccines for this last age group was a long time coming. That was, no doubt, frustrating, but there is a silver lining.
“We’ve gotten so much experience (with vaccines) over almost two years (of the pandemic),” said De La Cruz.
He explained that vaccines are usually rolled out and the medical community learns about their efficacy over six to 12 months. But we’ve had almost two years to see the efficacy of vaccines, and this longer rollout allowed more study on this newest vaccine in particular for the children in this age group.
As with many ailments, treatment for severe COVID symptoms will differ from age group to age group. This extra time allowed the vaccine manufacturers to study the effects more fully for this youngest age group to minimize side effects or longer-term symptoms and to avoid hospitalizations.
“We know children are not just little adults,” Paradis said. “Many of these medicines and treatments are for older children and adults.”
The CDC approved the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID 19 vaccine for children. The Moderna vaccine will require two doses, the Pfizer is a threedose series. No booster for this age group has yet been approved.
For more information
For information on where to get the free vaccine for children on a walk-in basis, go to the Milwaukee Health Department website.
Go to the 16th Street Community Health Centers’ website for information on vaccines– on an appointment basis.
To find other vaccine sites, go to healthymke.org.
If someone should try to charge you for a COVID vaccine, contact the Wisconsin Department of Health Services at 844-684-1064 or email DHSCovidVaccinePublic@wi.gov. This number and email address allows consumers to file complaints and ask questions about vaccine pricing.