As the nurse put on rubber gloves and prepared the syringe, 5-year-old Victoria Macias, wearing a pink Minnie Mouse mask and white blouse, turned her head and closed her eyes.
“It won’t hurt, okay?” I will hold your hand, I will hold your hand, “said her older sister Alondra, 8.” Take a deep breath, take a deep breath. “
Nurse Rachel Blancas slipped Victoria’s left hand for about a second. Victoria opened her eyes. And with that, the Makias sisters were among the first 5- to 11-year-olds to receive the covid-19 vaccine in the largest city in the Midwest.
Their mother, Maria Lopez, took them out of school early last Thursday to stop at a mass immunization site in southwestern Chicago. “They’ve got every other vaccine available, so why not this one?” said Lopez, 43, a real estate broker.
Esperanza Health Centers, the nonprofit health care provider that runs the site, is the best provider of covid vaccines for children in Chicago, according to the city’s Department of Public Health, administering about 10,000 immunizations to 12- to 17-year-olds. Now that the Food and Drug Administration has approved Pfizer-BioNTech for children ages 5-11, the organization’s efforts can provide lessons for other places in the United States struggling to vaccinate children.
“People in the community trust us,” said Veronica Flores, manager of Covid Response for Esperanza, which has five medical clinics that accept patients regardless of insurance or immigration status. “When the pandemic started, we were one of the first to do tests.”
At one point, she noted, Esperanza was responsible for more than half of all covid tests performed in the city. The patient population of the federally qualified health center, which is about 90% Spaniards, has doubled since COVID.
Everyone who works with patients at Esperanza is bilingual. The immunization site is open and is open five days a week, including for non-scheduled people. The clinic will even pay for Uber trips for patients to be vaccinated.
If parents or guardians have questions or concerns about the pediatric vaccine, Esperanza will contact their doctor.
Dr. Mark Minier, pediatric medical director, seeks to reassure patients by telling them that the injection, which is given at a lower dose than for teenagers and adults, has been found to be safe and effective for 5- to 11 years old. Relatively mild side effects may include injection site pain, headache, and fatigue, which may last for a day or two. He also reminds them that children are at risk of the virus.
“About 2 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been diagnosed with covid and there are about 170 deaths,” Minier said. “It’s still too much. If we have something that can help prevent death or any morbidity in children from covid, then we need to do it. “
Cynthia Galvan, a medical assistant in Esperanza who lives nearby, brought her 10-year-old son Andres to be injected on Thursday. She hopes this will give her family a better day of thanksgiving than last year, when several of her relatives were sick with covid-19.
“Everyone at home has already been vaccinated, except him,” said Cynthia, 34. “We have 10 people.”
The vaccination rate in Chicago of 58.2% for 12- to 17-year-olds is higher than the national average of about 50%, largely due to the operation of public health centers such as Esperanza, said the city’s health commissioner. r Alison Aruadi. Not only are they familiar with local languages and cultures, but they are also the type of places where the whole family is likely to receive immunizations, starting with grandparents last winter.
“We know that the biggest predictor of whether a child is vaccinated is whether the parent or guardian is vaccinated,” Aruadi said.
She is still worried about approximately 750,000 residents of the city without immunity to covid. Young blacks in Chicago are lagging behind other groups in getting the vaccine, and she worries that outbreaks could occur among these unvaccinated networks this winter.
“One way or another, your immune system will probably learn its lesson about covid and probably in the next few months,” Aruadi said. “So it’s either a safer way to get vaccinated or a risk of getting infected.”
The city is working to increase vaccine use by offering $ 100 gift cards, giving free injections at home to anyone who wants them, and giving all public school children a day off this Friday to get immunized.
Last week, Esperanza Health Centers sent text messages to the families of each of its approximately 8,000 patients aged 5 to 11 to notify their parents that the vaccine was available. The organization began distributing photos of the younger children on Wednesday morning, just hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the final green light. They will start giving second doses in three weeks.
“I hate photos,” said Benicio Decker, 7, while playing an iPad in the clinic’s waiting room on Thursday. “The only time I like shots is when we get ice cream after that.”
But the second-grader from Chicago said he was ready to endure a little inconvenience, “because I want to protect my family, me, my friends, my teacher.”
On a lively autumn afternoon, families with young children entered and left the site, a former 23,000-square-foot, open-ventilated gym, hanging fluorescent lamps and a rubber floor with blue spots. As Disney’s songs sounded through the speakers, the children stopped to take pictures in front of backgrounds with balloon-covered astronauts placed by the health center.
“They do a great job of providing information where people are,” said Benicio’s mother, Esmi De Maria, 39. “They have flyers in restaurants, laundries, grocery stores.” They do not expect people to come to them. “
Esperanza has also set up clinics for pop-up vaccines in local schools and parks.
De Maria said she was not on waiting lists like elsewhere in the city. She even hired a health center to teach vaccine seminars to her colleagues at a local neighborhood organization.
Esperanza is a trusted institution in a predominantly Spanish part of the city, De Maria said – the name of the health center means “hope” in Spanish. In Chicago and across the country, Latinos are less likely than whites and Asians to be immunized against the coronavirus, although the gap is narrowing.
“Black people have every right, historically, to be careful with vaccinations,” De Maria said, noting that many women in her ancestral home in Puerto Rico were forced to be sterilized in the 20th century. “It’s in our DNA to be skeptical.”
But she said she hoped everyone would consider immunizing for the good of the community. “It’s not just for him,” she said, pointing to Benicio.
At the vaccine station, Blancas, the medical assistant, told Benicio that the injection would look like a mosquito bite. “You are really brave. You win this ice cream, “said his mother.
When Blancas stuck Benicio’s hand with the needle, the boy, holding on tight to his teddy bear Batman, quietly let out an Ow. He then said he just felt a slight pinch.
“You’re officially vaccinated,” his mother told him as he sat playing with her phone in the surveillance zone for 15 minutes to make sure there were no dangerous allergic reactions. “He will be one of the first kids in his school to get vaccinated. He’s a little superhero.”
This article was reprinted by khn.org with permission from the Henry J. Family Foundation. Kaiser. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan health research organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.