DES MOINES, Iowa — Last Friday, U.S. regulators authorized the first COVID-19 shots for infants and preschoolers, paving the way for vaccinations to begin this week.
The Food and Drug Administration's action follows its advisory panel's unanimous recommendation for the shots from Moderna and Pfizer. That means U.S. kids under 5 — roughly 18 million youngsters — are eligible for the shots, about 1.5 years after the vaccines first became available in the U.S. for adults.
"Tens of thousands of children have been hospitalized in our country," said Dr. Joel Waddell, a Blank Children's Hospital Infectious Diseases Specialist. "And, unfortunately, a couple hundred have passed away in this age group. That makes it a top-five cause of death in this age group in the United States."
Doctors believe the newly approved COVID-19 vaccines for this age group will protect not only the child but those in their bubble.
"These babies and toddlers don't exist in isolation. They interact with family members, and families are very complex these days," Dr. Ravi Vemuri, a MercyOne Infectious Disease Specialist.
According to professionals, the delay in vaccine release has to do with getting it right.
"As a parent of two children in this age group myself, we've had to wait a long time to get these vaccines," Waddell said. "And the reason is, we wanted to make sure we had the right dose that was both safe and effective against COVID."
John Forbes, the owner of Medicap Pharmacy in Urbandale, said that phones have been ringing off the hook since parents first heard the news.
"We've had a lot of calls from parents really anxious about getting their children in to get that first vaccine dose in them," Forbes said.
Just 20 minutes west of Urbandale, Sumpter Pharmacy Owner Leslie Herron said there she isn't seeing that same demand.
"I don't know if there's going to be a huge rush for parents to bring in their kids in this age group," Herron said. "I'm just not so sure that they're, you know, going to be all eager to get the vaccine. I think there's going to be some more questioning going on with this younger group."
For parents who are worried about adding a COVID-19 vaccine to the list their youngster already has scheduled, doctors say there's no reason to worry.
"We can safely give the COVID-19 vaccine along with all these other vaccines," Vemuri said. "People tend to get worried about 'That's so many shots,' but the immune system is designed to handle those shots."
When it comes to side effects, doctors also say parents should not worry. Heart inflammation wasn't recorded in either vaccination trial, but it's something local doctors say they've seen in unvaccinated children instead.
"I've even personally seen heart inflammation from COVID in this age group from COVID infection," Waddell said. "And so the risks and the benefits here strongly favors getting the vaccine."
If parents are looking to make a vaccine appointment for their child, Forbes said it is important that they call ahead and double-check availability for certain age ranges.
"Some pharmacies are only giving the vaccine from age 3 and above. And Iowa law does allow pharmacies to administer vaccines from 6 months on," Forbes said. "So, depending on the pharmacy, there may be some pharmacies that may not give it to that age category."
For more information, check out Local 5's vaccine coverage.