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Vaccine Distribution for 5- to 11-Year-Olds is Opportunity to Show Progress with Equity

Patti Singer

Dr. Lekeyah Wilson, Rochester Regional Health. Provided photo

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, differences have been stark.

First, they were in who was exposed and contracting the virus. Then it was access and willingness to receive the vaccine.

By ZIP code and census tract, the numbers in Monroe County still show inequity and inequality. In wholly or predominantly city ZIP codes, the rate of residents fully vaccinated ranges from about 33 percent in 14614 to about 56 percent in 14609 and 60 percent in 14607.

In ZIP codes outside the city, Brockport (49.4%) and Hamlin (51%) have lower rates of fully vaccinated residents, according to data from the state Department of Health.

Now that children ages 5 to 11 are able to get vaccinated (so far only the Pfizer-BioNTech version has been authorized) the issue is making sure vaccine is available across the county so that any parent regardless of where they live or access to transportation can have their child immunized.

“This is something the pediatric community is paying close attention to,” said Dr. Lekeyah Wilson, medical director of community pediatrics and wellness for Rochester Regional Health.

Wilson, pediatric and adolescent medicine specialist with the Black Physicians Network, said RRH and UR Medicine, the Monroe County Department of Public Health, Common Ground Health and ROC the Future are in regular conversation about how to ensure equitable access of vaccine for youngsters.

Unlike the early weeks and months of COVID, when learning about the illness may have taken precedence over tracking demographic data, attention now is on making sure communities of color aren’t left behind.

“I’m happy with how we’ve turned things around from when we were first dealing with COVID,” she said. “ … We are so vocal, our voices are being heard to say, ‘Hey, let’s not forget about this. You’re saying this, but let’s also look at this.’ So I’m glad that we are asking the questions and then there’s reactions and actions versus just nodding and say, ‘Yes, we’ll do that.’ They’re actually putting it to action … .”

On Nov. 6-7, Monroe County started a series of pediatric-only clinics. The locations were in Pittsford, Greece and downtown at the MCC campus on State Street. The county also held a walk-in clinic at the Edgerton rec center. The county has reserved Saturdays at MCC downtown and Sundays at Edgerton for children who live in specific city ZIP codes.

According to the CDC, the vaccine will be available at doctors offices, pharmacies and Federally Qualified Health Centers, such as the Anthony L. Jordan Health Center.

“We would like our families to be able to go to their pediatricians or family medicine, PCPs to get their vaccine. But we’re also aware of how many appointments are available and how many individuals can each practice vaccinate. So then we have to establish other clinics to make sure that those who can’t get in with their PCP can still get access to the vaccine. … I think we’re being very innovative by saying, how do we bring the vaccines to our families? And that would be the schools and the rec centers.”

Here are excerpts from the conversation with Wilson:

What is the vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds?

They receive one-third of the adult dose, which provides the same immune response and less risk of side effects. They will receive a second dose, but that also is one-third of the dose given to people 12 and older. Safeguards are being put in place to make sure children receive the proper dose.

How are you using adult vaccination rates to predict rates for children?

The data are being extrapolated to say if these adults got vaccinated, they’re more likely to vaccinate their kids. If they’re hesitant to get vaccinated, they’re more likely not to vaccinate their kids.

What’s the data telling you?

When we talk about education and access to care, we need to do a better job. When we see those low immunization rates, we need to ask, why are they low? What is going on in these communities that these individuals are not getting vaccinated? Is it by choice? Is it access to care? Is it misinformation? We need to figure out what it is and confront it, deal with it. Whether that’s doing more town halls, whether that’s more face-to-face conversations, more education, more individuals going out into the community, meeting families where they’re at versus expecting them to travel somewhere else to get care.

Are you finding that parents who haven’t been vaccinated are reconsidering now that their child can be vaccinated?

I think it’s too early to tell. But I’m hopeful. I’m very hopeful. It gives us a, it gives us an opportunity to do education in counseling. … I have some families that want to protect their kids before they protect themselves. And then I asked them what happens if you’re sick, who’s going to take care of your kid. And then the light bulb goes off. ‘You’re right. I also have to take care of myself, not just vaccinating my kids.’ … If we’re going to ever get to a point that we can live with (COVID) and have some degree of normalcy, vaccination is, is part of the way, education is part of the way, personal hygiene, just being mindful of your exposures, staying home when you’re sick — those are all pieces of the puzzle that will help us to develop some degree of normalcy.