A “Vaxmobile” made its debut Wednesday to vaccinate kids younger than 5 with the newly approved COVID-19 shots.
Ten Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital personnel were on hand for the occasion. But in the first 90 minutes, parents brought in only two kids.
The sparse attendance — far lower than when the Vaxmobile targeted older populations earlier in the coronavirus pandemic — reflects the reluctance most parents have to vaccinate the youngest kids, as well as the challenge vaccine advocates face in changing their minds.
Sean Clouston, an associate professor and epidemiologist at Stony Brook University, said the low vaccination rates for the youngest kids echo the findings of a survey released last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation that only about 1 in 5 parents (18%) of kids under 5 were eager to get them vaccinated, while (38%) said they planned to see how the shots were working for others, with the rest reluctant or saying they’ll “definitely not” get their kids vaccinated.
“You’re not seeing lines around the block to get vaccinated,” he said, explaining of parents: “ They’re just not feeling the push to do it…In comparison to lots of other diseases, and especially a lot of other vaccine-preventable diseases, this one doesn’t really affect kids under 5 that much, and so I think parents are sort of taking a benefit versus risk calculation, and they may not see as clear a benefit, you know?”
People in their 70s, for example, are at greater risk from COVID, but “for under 5s, there really aren’t that many kids who are even showing symptoms, and then how many of them are going to the hospital or dying? It’s thought to be pretty low in general,” he said.
On June 18, the CDC recommended the shots for those under 5, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.
Dr. Marc Lashley in Valley Stream, of Allied Physicians Group, said his practice has given 150 shots so far in that age group. “Uptick is slow and less than expected,” Lashley said.
His rough estimate is that 15% of parents came in wanting the shot for their kids, 30% were reluctant and wanted to hear advice from the physician and then followed his advice and agreed to the vaccination, 20% don’t want it at all, with the balance undecided.
“People are hesitant giving their babies something new,” he said.
The vaccine for those under 5 is not yet available in the Northwell health system, though the system did hold a public event last week at which five kids of Northwell pediatricians were vaccinated.
The event, at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, was meant to motivate families to vaccinate their own kids, said Dr. Matthew Harris, Northwell's medical director for its COVID-19 vaccine program. His own 9-month-old son, Oliver, was one of the five.
For everyone else in that age group, the shots will be available starting July 9.
Harris said that new concentrations of the vaccination for the youngest age group come in different vials at different doses, necessitating additional training at the hospital that he said began Monday.
Harris said he doesn’t expect the same swell of vaccine-seekers as during the initial rollout in 2021 for the elderly and immunocompromised. He noted that the uptake for ages 5 to 11 is only 37.3% statewide for full vaccination.
“I think parents are being cautious,” Harris said, and urged reluctant parents to speak with their child’s pediatrician.
One of the two kids vaccinated was 2 ½-year-old Giselle Diaz, who cried for 25 seconds after the needle went in, as those around her clapped and cheered. A blue lollipop stopped the tears.
“I think I did my homework about this is the best decision for her, and for everybody,” said her dad, Daniel Diaz, 31, of Oceanside.
“She’s the last one,” Diaz said, noting that he and his wife and their 7-year old daughter had already been vaccinated.
Max Bomser, 35, of North Bellmore, a surgery coordinator at Mount Sinai hospital, whose 3-year-old son, Skyler Bomser, was vaccinated at the mobile, said: “We’ve been waiting, slowly but surely, for the approval process to come.”
He said there’s also some concern about new vaccines but “We trusted the science for all of his other vaccines.”