COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 were given the green light Wednesday by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, less than 24 hours after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also OK’d inoculation for the youngest group yet.
Vaccinations for that age group will begin as soon as the CDC releases clinical guidance and vaccinators are able to complete the necessary training, the DHS said. At this point, the only vaccine approved for children 5 to 11 is the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which requires two doses 21 days apart for full protection.
The planned clinics can’t come soon enough for many parents of children under 12, who have not been eligible for a vaccine since school started.
“I’m so, so, so thrilled that the COVID-19 vaccines are available for 5-11-year-olds,” Philosophy Walker, a parent of a kindergartner in the Madison School District, wrote in an email, adding that she has been refreshing various vaccinator websites every few hours since Tuesday’s CDC announcement in an effort to get her son inoculated as soon as possible.
“It feels like the last thing my family has been waiting for before we officially try to ‘get back to normal,’ and it is so exciting.”
Another parent, Michelle Ann Dunphy, a parent of an 8-year-old and 12-year-old in the Madison School District, said she was thrilled for her youngest to be eligible for inoculation.
“We’ve already scheduled an appointment for our 8-year-old for next week,” she said. “Our 12-year-old got vaccinated the day after his birthday.”
Most Wisconsin counties continue to see “very high” levels of COVID-19 transmission, said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer at the DHS Bureau of Communicable Diseases.
Preliminary data show that infection rates for children under 18 continue to be higher than all other age groups. Statewide, 93% of intensive care unit beds and 94% of intermediate care beds are currently in use.
“That means that many of our hospitals are operating at capacity or will be at capacity in the coming weeks or potentially days,” Westergaard said.
Not only will vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 protect them, but it will prevent transmission of the virus from school to household and will protect adults as well, health officials said.
“We shouldn’t trivialize how dangerous COVID-19 can be for children even though, most of the time, cases are mild and their risk of severe disease is much lower as a proportion than older people,” Westergaard said. “(COVID-19) is highly, highly contagious. While a young child might get a mild case of COVID-19, when that happens the people who live with that child, older adults, parents, grandparents, are at risk.”
Over 3.2 million Wisconsin residents have already completed their COVID-19 vaccination series and DHS officials said they look forward to seeing that number increase now that younger children are eligible to be inoculated.
Stephanie Schauer, Division of Public Health immunization program manager, said the state has so far received 170,000 doses for younger children in its first week’s allocation.
“Those doses are either en route or in providers’ offices awaiting the green light,” she said. “We don’t know how many doses we’ll be receiving in subsequent weeks, but CDC does reassure us there is sufficient vaccine and that it will be distributed on a pro-rata basis.”
There are 495,800 children estimated to be in the 5-11 age group in Wisconsin.
SSM Health said Wednesday it plans to partner with several Dane County school districts to offer school-based vaccination clinics for their young learners starting on Monday.
The health provider likely will also be offering inoculations to young children as soon as Thursday at its pediatric clinics, SSM Health Wisconsin vice president of pharmacy services Mo Kharbat said. And mass pediatric vaccination clinics are scheduled at SSM’s South Stoughton Road and North High Point Road locations on Saturdays and Sundays as well as its Janesville and Baraboo locations on Saturdays starting this week. Parents will need to schedule a vaccination time during those clinics either via MyChart or by calling 608-250-1222.
“It’s exciting,” Kharbat said. “It’s a group in the population that we knew up until now we could not vaccinate but we knew we need to vaccinate this group — 28 million kids in this age group in the country — to be able to get closer and closer to herd immunity.”
Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin said Wednesday it also plans to offer pediatric COVID-19 vaccination clinics for children of members ages 5 to 11 starting Saturday.
“We need to protect children from COVID-19 and the potential of long-term risks, and also protect their loved ones — vaccines do that,” said Alison Craig-Shashko, pediatrician and chief of staff at GHC-SCW. “Children should be vaccinated so that they’re healthy and so that their social support system is healthy, that includes parents, grandparents and teachers.”
GHC-SCW members can schedule appointments for children in that age group through GHCMyChart or by calling the COVID-19 vaccine scheduling line at 608-662-4914.
For the staff
Meanwhile, more than eight in 10 Madison School District teachers and staff are vaccinated, according to preliminary data received by the district Wednesday. The district expects staff vaccination rates to continue to rise in response to a vaccine requirement, spokesperson Tim LeMonds said in a statement.
As of Wednesday, preliminary data show over 82% of the district’s 5,700 full-time and part-time staff, including all MSCR seasonal staff, have provided proof of vaccination. Of the remaining staff, 16% have yet to report their vaccination status and less than 2% have requested exemptions or deadline extensions.
Employees were to report their vaccination status to the district by this past Monday. Employees who fail to submit documentation will placed on unpaid leave as early as next week while the district works to verify each employee’s vaccination status or grant exemptions. Those who do not have a vaccination exemption and fail to show proof of vaccination by Dec. 20 will be fired.