The day felt more like a carnival than a vaccination clinic, with stickers and balloons and dozens of excited, if a little anxious, kids waiting their turn in line. But instead of a ride at the end, the young patients ― 338 in all ― received Pfizer’s recently approved COVID-19 vaccine for children.
The single-day blitz of shots was hosted Wednesday by Sansum Clinic, which cleared the regular schedule of its Pediatrics Department on Hitchcock Way in order to inoculate as many kids ages 5 to 11 as possible before the holidays. Regular vaccine appointments continue to take place.
“The research has shown that these vaccines are safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 in children of this age group,” said Dr. Jerold Black, one of Sansum’s eight pediatricians. “We are hopeful that our ability to vaccinate these younger patients gets us closer to herd immunity.”
Kaeden Blankenship, 7, was there with his mom, Gina Gonzales, when Dr. Dan Brennan kneeled down and pulled the cap off a syringe. Kaeden, who’d been gung-ho about getting his shot, became a little apprehensive when faced with the actual needle. He scooted to the far edge of his chair. But after some gentle negotiation, he rolled up his sleeve, grabbed a teddy bear, and gritted his teeth, never taking his eyes off the proceedings as Dr. Brennan made quick work of the jab.
Kaeden, a 1st grader at El Camino Elementary School, was asked why he wanted to get the vaccine. “So I can go places and be safe,” he said matter-of-factly. Gina encouraged other parents to sign their kids up as well. “They should do it for themselves, for their kids, for my kid, for everyone,” she said. “They should trust their doctors.”
Dr. Brennan said it’s been a high point of his career to see how authentically happy his young patients are to receive their COVID-19 vaccine. “They know what’s going on; they understand what it means,” he said. It’s become a point of pride at school and on sports teams, he explained. “They’re excited and they’re prepared.”
Dr. Saida Hamdani, who was recently named Best Pediatrician by Santa Barbara Independent readers, said the three questions she hears most from parents are: what’s in the vaccine? What are the side effects? And how big was the study that deemed the Pfizer brand safe for kids?
The study was quite large, Hamdani answers, with more than 5,000 participants. Only a small group reported mild side effects. The vaccine doesn’t contain egg, gelatin, or heavy metals, she said. Instead, it’s mostly made of fats, oils, and sugars. The active ingredient ― messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA ― triggers an immune system response to protect against future infection. It never enters the nucleus of a patient’s cells, and it doesn’t change any genetic material, she emphasized.
Since the start of the pandemic, Sansum Clinic has provided 800 COVID-19 vaccines to children and 27,500 to adults. As of November 16, 61.3 percent of the county was fully vaccinated and 71.9 percent of those eligible had all their shots.
Once the deed was done, Kaeden rolled his sleeve back down and rubbed the outside of his bicep a little. Then he high-fived Dr. Brennan. On his way out the door of the exam room, he was asked what he’d be requesting from Santa for Christmas. “Probably lots of presents,” he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling above his mask.
Sansum will hold another all-day kid vaccine clinic in the coming weeks. Visit sansumclinic.org for more information.
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