Suffolk County officials Thursday opened the county's first vaccination center...

Suffolk County officials Thursday opened the county's first vaccination center to get shots into the arms of children under 5. Credit: Reece T. Williams

Suffolk has received 1,100 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, county officials said, and is ramping up a vaccination campaign for that age group — with its first clinic held Thursday.

Dozens of parents — some shedding tears of joy — brought their children to the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge to get shots approved days ago by federal officials for the last remaining age group to become eligible.

New York State announced that providers outside of New York City have ordered 64,300 doses of the vaccine so far for children ages 6 months to 4 years.

Suffolk has now received 500 Pfizer doses and 600 Moderna doses from the state — and will continue the clinics Friday and next week, said Shaheda Iftikhar, deputy commissioner for the Suffolk County Department of Health.

Friday’s clinic will be from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Dennison building, with walk-ins allowed.

The turnout on Thursday was less than what health officials had hoped — medical workers administered 56 shots out of 100 available, Iftikhar said.

“We would like to see more,” she said. “We would definitely like to encourage more parents to get educated and come and vaccinate their kids, because kids do get sick. They get severe diseases. They do get hospitalized.”

While most children infected with COVID-19 get mild symptoms, 442 under age 5 have died in the United States from the virus and thousands have been hospitalized, according to Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief, a Huntington Village pediatrician who sits on the executive council of the Long Island-Brooklyn/Queens chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

On Thursday, Jennifer Ng said she cried the entire ride over to the clinic from Mineola as she brought her 16-month-old daughter, Maeve, to get vaccinated.

“I’m very excited. We waited 16 months,” Ng said.

Since COVID-19 hit, “We haven’t really done anything. We’ve missed weddings. We’ve missed all kinds of stuff because it was very important to have her protected and that was the most important thing.”

“This is a big relief,” she said.

Although she realizes the chance of her daughter getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 is small, Ng said, "why take any risk at all if I don’t have to?”

She said her family is “still going to be careful, cautious when we can be, wear masks, but it will be nice to say yes to some things, be able to go and see our friends, see our family.”

Rachel Fried, a physician assistant from Dix Hills, said she worked at Stony Brook Hospital at the start of the pandemic, and saw “a lot of people pass away.”

So she rushed over to the Suffolk clinic as quickly as she could Thursday to get her 3-year-old daughter, Madeline, vaccinated.

“I’m very relieved,” she said. “I think this will give us a lot more freedom to do things with her.”

Since March 2020, Madeline has not had playdates, gone to birthday parties, or had preschool field trips, Fried said.

“They lost out on a lot,” she said. “Now they have to catch up. This will bring a normalcy back to our lives and a normalcy back to their childhood. They can be children again.”

Fried said sending her to preschool without the vaccine "this whole year has been very scary. Every time she gets a cold or she coughs or any sniffle, as a parent you think, ‘Oh my God, does my child have COVID?’ ”

Kathryn Gosselin, of Smithtown, said she found out she was pregnant on March 14, 2020. Two days later her office shut down due to the pandemic. Gosselin spent most of her pregnancy basically on lockdown, she said.

On Thursday, she showed up at the clinic to get her 19-month-old son, Julian, vaccinated.

“I’m excited. I’m relieved. It’s been a very long time coming,” she said. “Obviously vaccines aren’t perfect but just having that extra little bit of safety is really important to us.”

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