LA County rolls out vaccine for ages 5–11, 900 providers county-wide

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A nurse administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to 8-year-old Luxiano Gonzalez at Eugene A. Obregon Park in East Los Angeles after the vaccine was issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 3, 2021. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

Eight-year-old Luxiano Gonzalez, one of 900,000 children in LA now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, got his first dose Nov. 3 at Obregon Park in East LA. Luxiano said the shot only hurt a little, and that post-vaccine he most looks forward to playing again.

After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5–11 Nov. 2, families chaperoned their children to vaccination sites across the country.

In a press conference Nov. 3, the LA County Department of Public Health said more than 900 providers are planning to roll out the vaccine in the coming weeks across LA, and that there will be 480 school vaccination events. NELA residents can find sites at vaccinatelacounty.com. Some sites require prior appointments, but others allow walk-ins.

LA County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said 12 percent of LA County’s COVID-19 cases from the week of Oct. 10 were children ages 5–11, who comprise 9 percent of the county’s population. According to Occidental College public health professor Jessica Dirkes, vaccinating children helps the community progress toward herd immunity.

“Now that there’s evidence that the vaccine is safe in younger populations, it’s an important next step to not only ensure that we protect those between 5 and 11, but also, we know that young people are transmitters of the disease,” Dirkes said. “Even though they may not experience the negative effects it helps protect our entire population and achieve herd immunity.”

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer speaks to the press at an event announcing the approval of COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages 5–11-years-old in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 3, 2021. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

Rafael Gonzalez, Luxiano’s father, said he has been waiting to get his kids vaccinated for a long time.

“Over the last two years, there’s been a lot of anxiety so when I found out about this, I just had to be here and [my kids] wanted to be here, too,” Gonzalez said. “I mean, they’ve been fairly on their own and so, to now have the comfort that we can open ourselves up to larger crowds and more family members, it really is amazing.”

Gonzalez said with the upcoming holiday season, the vaccine is an added reassurance, but he is also aware that the pandemic is not over.

“We’re looking forward to seeing more of our family and participating in more events or social events,” Gonzalez said. “Mind you, we still are going to take responsibility –– we’re still going to be masked up and keeping our distance, but the fact that they’re vaccinated makes me feel a little more comfortable knowing that their immunities are going to be much stronger.”

Dirkes is also the mother of a 9-year-old child. For Dirkes, getting her child vaccinated is a priority.

“I really do think that this is an important next step for my family, ” Dirkes said. “We are all vaccinated except for my 9-year-old. He thinks it’s unfair and so I am very much looking forward to having us all vaccinated.”

Permanent vaccination sites, like the one in Obregon Park, are an important feature of the vaccine rollout for this age group, Ferrer said, as consistent locations can help build the community’s trust in the county’s vaccine services.

“Our job is to answer questions and also stay here so that the community trusts us the same way they trust other people,” Ferrer said at the Nov. 3 press conference at Obregon Park.

The vaccination site at Eugene A. Obregon Park in East Los Angeles in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 3, 2021. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

Dirkes also said that holding vaccination events at sites where both parents and children feel comfortable is an important consideration.

“The goal is to have people or families have the opportunity to vaccinate their kids in settings that are familiar to them –– I think that’s really important because people tend to be a little bit more concerned or protective about kids,” Dirkes said.

For parents with concerns about the vaccine for younger children, Occidental College public health professor Nicole Vick suggests doing research into the proven benefits of getting vaccinated. She said pediatricians, the CDC website and local health departments can all be reliable sources of information and guidance.

“There’s a lot of work that has been done on the back end to ensure the safety of the vaccine, but definitely check with your child’s physician if you’re concerned,” Vick said.

Despite vaccine mandates for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) students ages 12 and older, Ferrer said she does not foresee a similar requirement for the 5–11-year-old population, at least until the county has built trust with the community and answered families’ questions.

Dirkes said this development is not just a step in the right direction, but a beacon of hope for the end of the pandemic.

“One of the things that’s been hard for us, all of us and parents, is having to really spend the last year opting out,” Dirkes said. “I think that’s really important and I think this is another next step to being in a place where we can live freely again.”