Atlanta children receive vaccine after FDA approval


Courtesy of Marie Martin

ON THE COUNT OF THREE: 8-year-old Carden Heuser gets her Covid-19 shot. “She ran to get the shot and told strangers how excited she was,” parent Marie Martin said.

Lindsay Ruhl

Parents across Atlanta have been rushing their younger  kids to vaccine clinics since the FDA approved the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for kids ages 5-11.  

The FDA panel voted 17-0 that the vaccine should be  authorized on Oct. 29. For kids ages 5-11, the vaccine uses  a lower dose and doses are given three weeks apart. 

“For a vaccine, what we know is that kids are not little  adults,” Piedmont Pediatrics pediatrician Dr. Allison  Koenig said. “What you’re doing in the studies is trying  to figure out what is the appropriate dose for an immune  response, but also making sure it’s not going to cause  increased side effects. What we know about 5-11 and even  younger is that they probably don’t need as much of a dose  to get the same immune response, and if you overshoot the  dose, they may have greater side effects.”  

Vaccine clinics have been swarmed with younger kids  eager for vaccination. Medical professional Moaaz Nasir  performs Covid-19 tests, gives shots and assists people with  reactions at a testing and vaccination site in Brookhaven.  According to Nasir, the clinic had many younger kids the  first day it was authorized for them. 

“We’ve actually seen a very good turnout of kids coming  by to get vaccinated,” Nasir said. “I’m glad parents are  taking initiatives of actually coming by and wanting to get  their kids vaccinated. It’s just another step closer for us to  get back to ‘normal.’ We’ve seen well over 300 to 400 kids.  In one day we’ve had almost 100 kids get the shot.”  

Midtown cluster parent Sarah Zeigler works with the CDC  and helped with training and support for departments and  pharmacies with vaccine rollout in February. 

“I’m really fortunate to work at a place with really  dedicated public servants that have dedicated their lives to  science and making sure that we have the best information  possible at any given time on how we can address public  health issues,” Zeigler said. “Public health is about helping  the health of an entire community, the entire population.  A place like CDC is focused on doing the best we can for  everyone. You get to have a lot of impact.” 

Zeigler said getting her ten year old daughter vaccinated  was a “no-brainer.” 

“My daughter has been very vigilant and she is very  dedicated to doing all of her Covid protections,” Ziegler  said. “She wears two masks to school, she sits out in the  hallway when the kids have snacks, so she’s very very careful  to protect herself to make sure she doesn’t bring back Covid  to anybody in her family.”

Zeigler’s daughter was following the news closely for the  approval for kids 5-11 and was “very excited to get her  shot.” 

“We were watching the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, ACIP, that CDC runs,” Ziegler  said. “That’s the group that has to approve it after the  FDA approves it. The meeting was last week and we were  watching it to make sure they voted yes. We saw they voted  yes and I told her and she’s like ‘can we go now?’ So the  next day we got there an hour and a half before they opened  and we hoped that we would be early enough to be in line. And we happened to be first in line by a lot.”

Midtown cluster parent Amy Ard had all three of her kids vaccinated as soon as they were eligible.

“It was really simple for me, I chose to get them vaccinated because I wanted to protect them and I wanted to protect our community and I trust the science,” Ard said. “I feel very confident in this decision. I think we put things in our kids’ bodies every single day that have received less scrutiny than these vaccines. The risk of not being vaccinated outweighed any little tiny concern I have about the vaccines themselves. I understand that for a lot of people it is a hard decision but it was not that way for my family.”

A common concern about the vaccines are the reactions  to the shot. Nasir has observed thousands of people getting  the shot, with only a few having severe reactions. “We have had very few cases that were very serious where  they started losing their sight, started feeling a lot of pain,  would pass out,” Nasir said. “But other than that, it’s not  too bad. And those people are totally okay and they came  back and got their second dose. It’s nice seeing familiar  faces come back.” 

Koenig sees child vaccinations as a step closer to mental  health improvements. 

“If you are vaccinated and exposed to Covid, you don’t have  to be quarantined,” Koenig said. “By getting vaccinated,  it allows kids to actually still attend school. They can be  masked and go into a friend’s house. It allows them to  have life not be so interrupted, which impacts education  obviously but also impacts mental health. So I think the  vaccine also allows kids to be in their normal activities and  routine, which is beneficial to their mental health.” 

Midtown neighborhood resident Bingham Ulsh had her son vaccinated right when he turned 12 back in August.

“His pediatrician said that the benefits were much greater than the risk,” Ulsh said. “He recommended that we do it and we wanted him to be protected and we want to get back to life as normal as possible. We just felt like it was the right thing to do for him.”

Koenig believes that the benefits far outweigh the risks of  the Covid vaccine and vaccines in general. 

“The Covid vaccine is a lot similar to the flu shot,” Koenig  said. “For most people, Covid is okay. But for some, even  healthy kids can be hospitalized with Covid and can die  from Covid. Covid is now the eighth leading cause of death  for kids. It’s not a totally benign, not-a-big-deal kind of  cold. So, if there’s a vaccine that is by-enlarge safe, then  kids getting sick from the vaccine is far, far smaller than the risk of being really sick from Covid itself.”  

The new age approval brings new opportunities for kids  and their families.  

“I got my 14 year old vaccinated at Mercedes Benz back  in May and I cried a little bit,” Zeigler said. “It’s very  emotional. It’s just been such a worry and it’s such a relief  to have more protection. It’s not full proof– nothing is– but  I think about it like the flu shot. I get my flu vaccine every  year. I might still get the flu but I won’t die.”