Colorado parents of toddlers urged to schedule COVID shots now to be ready for school

Parents of kids under 5 will start getting messages today from the state health department, urging them to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 before preschools are back in session.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that children between six months and 5 years receive either three doses of the Pfizer vaccine or two of the Moderna shot. Both contain the same ingredients as the shots given to adults and older kids, but in smaller doses.

Infants younger than six months aren’t eligible for the shots, but can receive some protection from severe illness if their mothers get vaccinated during pregnancy.

It takes between 11 and 16 weeks to complete the Pfizer series and four to eight weeks for Moderna, said Heather Roth, immunization branch chief at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. That means parents shouldn’t delay if they want their children to be protected before school starts, especially since the body doesn’t develop its highest level of protection until about two weeks after the final shot, she said.

“Now is the perfect time,” she said.

Children are at a lower risk of severe COVID-19 than adults, but had less protection during the omicron wave this winter than they did earlier in the pandemic, said Dr. Eric France, chief medical officer for the state health department. Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 among kids under 5 were roughly double the odds of being hospitalized for chickenpox before that vaccine became available, and were comparable to the rate caused by seasonal flu, he said. About one-quarter of children in that age group hospitalized for COVID-19 between December and February spent time in an intensive care unit.

“As a pediatrician and a public health doctor, I am thrilled” to have vaccines for younger children, he said.

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Side effects are comparable to what’s been seen in adults, including muscle pain, chills, tiredness, headaches and fevers. Children who aren’t old enough to describe symptoms sometimes showed increased crying and irritability, or decreased appetite for a few days after the shot. The odds of side effects appear to be slightly higher with the Moderna shots, though parents whose kids are particularly averse to needles may prefer its two-shot regimen.

“Ultimately, I don’t think there’s a bad choice, and I encourage parents to take the vaccine that’s available to them,” Roth said.

Roth said 381 children received their first shots Wednesday, and that number will likely rise as reports come in throughout the day. Uptake has been slow among older kids, though, and only about 37% of those between 5 and 11 have been vaccinated in Colorado.

State law allows parents to take paid time off work to get their children vaccinated, France said. Shots will be available through doctor’s offices, some pharmacies, the state’s vaccine buses and one-time events. For information on where your child can get the shot, call 877-268-2926 or visit covid19.colorado.gov/kids-vaccines.

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