What to know about Covid vaccines for kids in Salem

Syringes of the Pfizer vaccine during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on Thursday, Jan. 28. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

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Oregon officials on Wednesday gave the green light to begin Covid vaccination of 5-11 year olds across the state, but it’s likely to be at least a few days before appointments for kids are widespread at local pediatricians and pharmacies. 

That’s because the approved vaccine for kids, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, is a smaller dose than the adult version. Many Oregon providers are still awaiting shipments of vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccination in an announcement following approval Tuesday.

“Similar to what was seen in adult vaccine trials, vaccination was nearly 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 among children aged 5-11 years. In clinical trials, vaccine side effects were mild, self-limiting, and similar to those seen in adults and with other vaccines recommended for children. The most common side effect was a sore arm,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday.

As with adults, the pediatric Pfizer vaccine consists of two shots spaced three weeks apart.

Here’s what parents in the Salem area should know.

Where can I get a shot for my kid?

Unlike with the vaccine rollout for adults, shots for kids will mostly take place at pediatrician’s offices and pharmacies, local providers said, rather than mass vaccination sites and events.

Scheduling through your pediatrician’s office or a pharmacy chain like Walgreens or Safeway is likely the fastest route to vaccination, but many providers are waiting to book appointments until vaccines are actually on-site.

Salem Health’s pharmacy is serving as the regional distributor for smaller clinics and providers in Marion and Polk counties. As of Wednesday, the health provider had received 900 pediatric doses of vaccine, spokesperson Lisa Wood said, with 600 more expected by Friday. Wood said those doses will be distributed to area providers this week.

Wood said Salem Health has orders in to receive 7,700 pediatric doses in the coming weeks.

Salem Heath stood up mass vaccination clinics for adults early in the year, but won’t do the same for children. That’s because vaccine supply is much less limited and the number of kids seeking shots is smaller, so providers expect they’ll be able to keep up with demand.

“Primary care and pediatric clinics are particularly important in vaccinating the youngest population as many parents are seeking the advice of their trusted medical providers about vaccinating their children. We anticipate the demand will not exceed the ability of provider offices and pharmacies to administer vaccinations,” Wood said in an email.

When will appointments be available?

So far, few providers have started booking or announced definitive dates for when appointments will be available, but that should change quickly.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Walgreens was not yet scheduling appointments for 5-11 year-olds in Salem, though the pharmacy’s website said appointments would be available at select stores beginning Nov. 6.

Safeway and Albertsons pharmacies’ online scheduling system did not have information available about appointments for kids under 12 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Rite Aid will begin scheduling appointments for kids Thursday, Nov. 4. Pediatric vaccines will be available at its Salem stores on Lancaster Drive Northeast and Liberty Street Northeast, according to its website.

Wood said Salem Health will post updated information on its Covid vaccination site once appointments can be scheduled for kids 5-11, but did not give a timeframe for opening those appointments.

At Salem Pediatric Clinic, Dr. Warren Griffin said the clinic expects to receive its first doses of pediatric vaccine Friday. Parents and guardians of existing patients can book appointments now for their kids, he said. 

“We should have plenty,” Griffin said.

Willamette Family Medical Center Health expects to receive vaccines in the next few weeks and will have information on its website once pediatric vaccine appointments are available.

“As with the introduction of any new eligible group for vaccination we do not expect that our health care system will be able to schedule all children that would like to get vaccinated in the first days that they become eligible. Most eligible kids should be able to find appointments within a couple of weeks if they are flexible and check their providers, nearby pharmacies, and other vaccinating providers,” Oregon Health Authority spokesperson Erica Heartquist said in an email.

Will there be clinics at schools or other public places?

Not immediately, and few providers have plans for public events.

Wood said Salem Health isn’t planning to make pediatric vaccines available at its mobile clinics, like the one currently running at Salem Center, because of the different dosing requirements. So far, they also haven’t planned any school-based clinics.

Marion County won’t offer vaccination clinics for kids, spokesperson Chad Ball said, because most pediatricians are already eligible to administer vaccines and are expected to be able to keep up with demand.

“The vaccine remains the best way to protect ourselves and loved ones from COVID-19. We encourage parents to reach out to their pediatricians or health care provider to see if the vaccine is right for them and their families. Getting kids vaccinated could also lead to shorter to no quarantine times and fewer school days missed as well,” Ball said in an email.

In Polk County, clinics at schools are in the works, but no plans have been made yet, said public health administrator Jacqui Umstead.

“We are also working with our community and health system partners to set up vaccine events at some local school locations. These events will be scheduled in the coming weeks as more vaccine doses become available,” Umstead said in an email.

The Salem-Keizer School District has discussed holding vaccination clinics for other routine childhood immunizations like measles and polio, spokesperson Aaron Harada said, but hasn’t made any plans for Covid vaccination clinics.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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