Akron Children’s Expanding COVID Vaccines in Schools and Its Hospitals to 5-11 Year Olds

AKRON, Ohio — Following Tuesday’s emergency use authorization by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the two-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine series for children age 5 to 11, Akron Children’s Hospital announced it will be offering vaccines to students in schools throughout northeastern Ohio, as well as its campuses in Akron and the Mahoning Valley.

As of Nov. 3, families can schedule appointments for children 5 and older at Akron Children’s community vaccination clinics at its main campus, as well as the Beeghly campus in Boardman. Appointments can be made at AkronChildrens.org/covidvaccine, according to a release issued Wednesday morning.

The pediatric hospital will continue offering the vaccines to students in schools with a parent’s consent. So far, the hospital’s Division of School Health Services has vaccinated students in 20 school districts throughout Summit, Portage, Stark, Mahoning, Columbiana and Wayne counties. Now the vaccine will be offered to students 5 years of age and older, with the school-based clinics continuing into the fall and winter months.

By mid-November, Akron Children’s will extend vaccination available to its primary care offices, Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, in 35 counties, as well as its Urgent Care locations, according to the release.

“We have learned so much from our vaccine experience this year. What we know is that we need a portfolio of options for families,” Dr. Michael Bigham, chief quality officer for Akron Children’s, stated in the release. “We are committed as an organization to make the vaccine available at local schools, our hospital campuses in Akron and the Mahoning Valley, our urgent cares, and at our pediatrician offices. We are trying to make sure we have many options available for easy access to the vaccine that are close to home.”

The announcement was issued as Dr. Michael Forbes, pediatric intensivist and critical care specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital, as well as its department of pediatrics chairman, joined other state specialists for a virtual web conference hosted by the Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

While the pediatric community “felt lucky” during the first wave of the virus because it seemed to skip children to a degree, “the delta wave is different,” Forbes said during the conference.

“We have seen severe disease in children and it really highlights the need for vaccination,” Forbes said. “Remember that the purpose of vaccines is to prevent severe disease. And really, the goal is to improve community health.”

The Ohio health care system is a “shared community resource,” he said, on which individual decisions have an impact on the availability of that resource. In 2020, the system lost more than 500,000 health care workers, requiring the industry to innovate and collaborate with regional partners, he said.

In order to move forward as a community to preserve community health, Forbes said, “is to make sure we’re doing the things we know to do.”

Akron Children’s is anticipating the usual occurrence of winter viruses this year, including the flu, “but COVID does change things,” he said.

During the winter, wearing a mask is a “no brainer; a nonissue,” he said. “Wear your mask when you’re around other people.” He also advised individuals to continue distancing, washing hands and avoiding large groups and to get the vaccine.

“I think this is such a terrific time to be able to really kind of turn the corner on this pandemic and get a little more control over the spread,” he said.

As of Nov. 1, more than 2,000 Ohio children under the age of 18 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, of whom 15 have died, reported Dr. Vanderhoff. Recent data shows that among all age groups, including young people, 95% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 since January are unvaccinated.

Vanderhoff explained that the Pfizer vaccine is 10 micrograms, one-third the size of the typical adult dose. During clinical trials of children aged 5 to 11, the vaccine was “almost 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infections,” he said, noting that the trials took place while the delta variant was widespread.

“This is a remarkable level of protection,” Vanderhoff said.

Still, parents seem hesitant to get their children vaccinated because of potential side effects. In a recent Household Pulse Survey published Nov. 2 by QuoteWizard by Lending Tree, 60% of respondents say concerns over side effects will keep them from vaccinating their children. In Ohio, nearly 59% of respondents aren’t sure if their children need the vaccine, according to the study.

During the clinical trials for the pediatric dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which included some 3,100 healthy children, “no serious side effects were detected,” Vanderhoff emphasized.

“We know parents are concerned about the rare adverse effect of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. You may recall that this rare risk was identified for vaccine recipients 12 and older, albeit a risk that most recover from on their own,” he said. “It’s in fact more likely for myocarditis to occur after being infected with COVID-19 than it is after someone is vaccinated.”

After vaccination, it takes about five weeks to achieve full protection, Vanderhoff said. He recommends patients to receive their first dose no later than Nov. 20 to have satisfactory protection during the Christmas holiday.

The vaccine will be available in all 88 Ohio counties. During the initial rollout of vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11, more than 367,000 doses will be available. That includes some 250,000 doses ordered by providers through the state’s allocation system, and more than 115,000 ordered by pharmacies through the federal retail pharmacy program.

The first shipments of the pediatric formulation have already arrived in Ohio and additional shipments will arrive over the coming days. Ohio families can schedule appointments with local health departments, pediatricians, family physicians, community health centers, adult and children’s hospitals and pharmacies. He encourages families to contact their health care providers for more information.

The state is expanding the Ohio Vax to School program for students age 5 to 25, Vanderhoff announced. The program will reward $2 million in scholarships to eligible Ohioans, as well as 150 $10,000 scholarships and five $100,000 grand prize scholarships. To be eligible, individuals must register after the first dose of the vaccine has been administered, ideally by Nov. 21.

Drawings for the $10,000 prizes are scheduled for Nov. 22 and Nov. 29.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.