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Pediatricians across the Valley are beginning to schedule appointments for vaccinations for COVID-19 and the Arizona Department of Health Services is emphasizing the safety of the vaccine as the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve it for ages 5 through 11 as soon as next week.
“This will help to prevent your child from getting the disease — and if your child gets the disease, it will be much milder,” Dr. Richard Carmona, Governor Doug Ducey’s Senior Advisor for Public Health Emergency Preparedness, told the Arizona Mirror.
Carmona, the seventeenth surgeon general of the United States, emphasized the safety of the vaccine and the steps it has undergone in order to be approved for use in children across the nation.
Despite free vaccines being available to all adults since March, COVID-19 cases continue to persist: The state averaged 2,486 new cases per day this past week. Roughly 52% of the population is fully vaccinated against the virus, which has infected more than 1.1 million Arizonans. More than 82,500 have been Arizonans under the age of 20 — and many of those have happened since the Delta variant began surging in the late summer.
The vaccine that is expected to be approved for ages 5-11 as soon as next week will be the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, which is delivered as a series of two injections 21 days apart. The Moderna shot is also expected to be approved soon, and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has been expanding its clinical trials.
The Pfizer shot was also the first vaccine to be approved for booster shots for adults.
“When you look at all the checks and balances, the most important thing the public has to realize is that there are a series of things that (the vaccine)] have to go through before they are considered safe and efficacious,” Carmona said of the process.
The vaccines have to go through clinical trials, which have to be then examined by the FDA and the CDC and reviewed by expert panels before they can be approved for wider use, something that Carmona said should give parents confidence.
Arizona sits in the bottom half of the country when it comes to it’s vaccination rates for COVID-19, and the state as a whole has historically been vaccine hesitant. Many parents across the nation are still highly cautious about the vaccine for their children.
However, studies have shown that the vaccine is highly effective at combating the virus and is effective against side effects that specifically impact children.
Children who come down with COVID-19 are at heightened risk of developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome, in which their heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract can become severely inflamed. The Pfizer vaccine has been found to have “100% efficacy” in reducing these symptoms and even preventing them.
Additionally, doctors and researchers have pointed out that more children have died of COVID-19 in the United States — the death toll is over 400 — than the number of children who died annually from chicken pox, which eventually spurred the creation of a vaccine.
“Vaccine hesitancy is this umbrella that covers a lot of people,” Carmona said when asked about Arizona’s vaccine hesitancy, adding that language barriers, those who are uniformed and those who are outright afraid of needles all fall within that category.
“Part of the challenge is we are divided in many ways as a nation. We are the disunited states with this virus,” Carmona said. “People are anxious and want information, and they can be misled if they get it from a non-reliable source.”
Carmona emphasized education on vaccines to address the issue, but stopped short of suggesting mandates. He said he had spoken to Ducey about the issue, and the governor decided to push for education on vaccines instead of mandates akin to the mandatory vaccines for measles required for schoolchildren in Arizona.
“In certain states, people will really express their individualism,” Carmona said, adding that mandates can have the “opposite effect,” making people “dig in” more. “These are balancing acts that are challenging within a democracy.”
Arizona already has a large number of exemptions for vaccinations and has been considered an “anti-vaccination hotspot,” but Carmona said he is planning to continue to educate parents about the importance of vaccinating against COVID-19.
The state has approximately 645,000 children between the ages of 5 to 11, and around 900 providers are ready to deliver vaccinations, Carmona said.
“We don’t want any delay to be because of access,” Carmona said.
Additionally, Carmona said children can get a flu shot at the same time they get a COVID-19 shot and it won’t cause any issues.
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