Health care providers around Long Island Tuesday began administering COVID-19 vaccines for children under the age of 5. Newsday TV's Shari Einhorn reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; The White House

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Lisa L. Colangelo, Shari Einhorn and Bart Jones. It was written by Jones.

A nationwide push to vaccinate children under 5 years old against COVID-19 kicked off Tuesday but many pediatricians and Long Island health care providers were either still waiting for doses or getting by with minimal amounts, health experts said.

And when ample shipments of vaccine become available for Long Island's youngest children, supply might end up outstripping demand, if early trends continue.

So far, health experts said, the amount of people on the Island seeking the vaccine for children between 6 months and 4 years old has been small.

“We’re not seeing as great a demand as we did with the 5 to 11 group,” said Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief, of Huntington Village Pediatrics.

What to know

  • Demand for COVID-19 shots for children under 5 did not appear high on Long Island on Tuesday and many providers had not received doses.
  • Suffolk County said it would hold a clinic on Thursday with 90 doses, though 82,000 children in that age group in the county are eligible.
  • Doctors said they hope demand increases as parents learn more about the benefits of the shots and the dangers of COVID-19 even to young children.

For many parents of babies and toddlers, she said, “this is kind of new to them. They are understandably just kind of learning about it now and just want to ask more questions and are thinking about it.”

Suffolk said 82,000 children in the youngest age group in the county are eligible for the shots. The county will hold a vaccine clinic Thursday with 90 doses available.

“We urge parents to continue to take this unpredictable virus very seriously and have their children immunized as soon as possible,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, Suffolk County health commissioner. “I believe families should feel confident that the safety and efficacy of vaccines for this age group were firmly established before approval was considered.”

Nassau officials said Tuesday they had yet to receive any doses. There are more than 76,000 children under 5 in Nassau, according to the U.S. Census.

Nassau County Health Commissioner Lawrence Eisenstein said: “Our world-class infrastructure of pediatricians and federally qualified health centers are experts at caring for all of a child’s new health needs, and are the recommended vaccination sites for children. If anybody needs help accessing vaccine for a child by all means they can call the NCDOH Immunization Bureau at 516-227-9416 for assistance.”

At a White House ceremony Tuesday, President Joe Biden touted the United States as "the first country in the world to offer safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old."

Many pediatricians, along with Island health care systems, were still waiting or had received limited amounts amounts of vaccine.

Stony Brook Medicine and Catholic Health also were without doses as of Tuesday, according to officials with both systems

Five Federally Qualified Health Centers that serve low-income communities on Long Island ordered doses that have not arrived yet, said David Nemiroff, president and CEO Long Island FQHC, Inc.

One center, in Roosevelt, anticipates doses by Friday, he said. The others — located in Elmont, Freeport, Hempstead and Westbury — don’t know when vaccines will arrive.

Northwell Health said it received 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine Tuesday, and would start administering it Wednesday.

A federal website, vaccines.gov, which included places people can get the shots for children under 5, listed one Long Island location as of Tuesday — Ezra Pharmacy in Cedarhurst. The pharmacy had both Moderna and Pfizer doses for children under 5, and was waiting for final approval from Nassau officials to start administering the shots — hopefully Wednesday, said pharmacist Marty Ezra.

The Allied Physicians Group said three out of its 23 pediatricians’ offices on Long Island had received doses as of Tuesday.

One of the three, headed by Meltzer-Krief, received 100 vaccine doses on Monday, and administered 10 on Tuesday. Many of the parents were physicians, she said.

In the 5 to 11-year-old group, demand had been so strong, according to Meltzer-Krief, her office held a Sunday clinic under a tent outside. Doctors administered 60 shots.

She said that while “most children do very well with COVID, most people don’t realize that 442 children under the age of 5 have died from COVID.” Thousands of others have been hospitalized with the virus, she said. “It’s not a benign disease for all.”

Some surveys have indicated that demand will not be as strong in the under-5 group compared to other age groups. A Kaiser Foundation survey found that 18% of parents of children under 5 were “eager” to get their child vaccinated right away, while about 38% said they wanted to wait and see how the vaccine works with others.

Some 27% said they will “definitely not” get their children vaccinated, while 11% said they will do so only if required.

Brett Olen, of Merrick, brought his son, Skyler, 13 months, in Tuesday for the vaccine — a decision he called "a no-brainer."

"This is something we have been waiting for," Olen said at Valley Stream Pediatrics. "We trust the science."

Less certain was Patricia Santiago, of East Meadow, who has a 4-year-old son.

"I chose not to vaccinate him at this time," Santiago said. "Just kind of waiting to see how this pans out. … I'm definitely leaning toward getting him vaccinated."

Dr. Joseph Rozenbaum of the Long Island Pediatric Group in Cedarhurst said roughly 30% of parents of young children who use his practice have expressed interest in the vaccine. He expects to have a supply next week.

“We do feel strongly that kids should get it because even though COVID is a minor illness for kids, in rare cases it could be devastating,” Rozenbaum said. “And we don’t know what the long-term side effects of any diseases, especially this one, where it’s a virus that seems to have long lasting effects in certain people … The shots have been tested.”

Melzter-Krief said that as pediatricians continue to educate families about the vaccine, she expects demand to increase.

Suffolk said its clinic on Thursday will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. at the H. Lee Dennison building at 100 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge. They recommended people register at vax4.suffolkcountyny.gov or all 311.

Suffolk officials noted that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 13.5 million children in the United States have been infected with COVID-19.

“While most children experience mild symptoms, more than 42,000 have been hospitalized in the U.S. and at least 1,240 children aged 18 and younger have died,” Suffolk said in a statement

County Executive Bellone said: “We’ve sacrificed so much for more than two years while trying to keep our families safe from COVID-19 and now we finally have approved vaccines to protect our youngest residents.”

County officials said they hope to hold more clinics in coming days as more doses arrives.

Health care providers in New York — outside of New York City — order COVID-19 vaccines through the New York State Immunization Information System. Those orders are reviewed and approved by the state Health Department. Vaccine is delivered directly to the providers from the manufacturer or a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention distributor.

New York State said providers so far have placed preliminary orders for more than 39,000 dosages for children under 5.

Chain pharmacies and large stores such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart get their doses separately through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

The state health department said it will finalize operational guidance for vaccination providers this week.

With AP

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