Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that parents will be able to bring their 5- to 11-year-olds to more than 500 locations across the state to get them vaccinated against COVID-19, now that federal officials have given the green light for that age group.
“We strongly encourage parents and families to get the facts and to make the call to protect their kids,” Baker said during a news conference at Boston Children’s Hospital.
He said appointments can be made on the state’s Vaxfinder website and that families can also contact their pediatricians directly. The 211 hotline is available to assist people without Internet access. Families can also find information online at www.mass.gov/covidvaccinekids.
“The one thing that is pretty clear about vaccinations generally and COVID [vaccinations] is states that have high vaccination rates have low case counts, low hospitalization rates, lower rates of death,” Baker said. “That data at this point is virtually undeniable.”
Reporters also heard from Dr. Frinny Polanco Walters of Boston Children’s Hospital, who said the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.
“I recommend … making the appointment, getting the vaccine as soon as possible, and not delaying. Because by delaying it, they may put their kids at risk of developing COVID,” Walters said at the news conference.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday approved the recommendation of its expert advisers to proceed with Pfizer pediatric shots for children ages 5 to 11. That cleared the way for 28 million youngsters, including about 515,000 in Massachusetts, to receive the two-dose regimen, which will be a third of the amount given to adults.
Science advisers to the CDC concluded the benefits of vaccinating young children outweigh the very small risks from the shots. They said that while there have been some cases of heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, in teens and young adults traced to the vaccine, there have been many more such cases in unvaccinated young people who were infected with COVID.
Historically, Massachusetts has one of the highest rates in the country for established childhood vaccines, from polio to pertussis. And CDC data show it also has one of the highest rates for COVID vaccinations among people 12 and older, trailing only Vermont and Connecticut.
Baker said Thursday that COVID vaccines for the 5-to-11 group “started to ship to Massachusetts last week after the FDA issued its emergency use authorization. ... Pediatric doses are here and more will be coming.”
He said state officials don’t anticipate any supply issues, something that plagued the state during the initial rollout of the vaccine for adults.
“For months, we’ve been preparing to distribute vaccines across the state so that families would have easy access once they were approved,” Baker said. “And over the past year, we’ve built the nation’s leading vaccine distribution infrastructure that’s grounded in our relationships with partners like local boards of health, hospitals, pediatricians’ offices, community health centers, and many other health care providers.”
He conceded that some parents may have questions about getting their young children vaccinated.
“We understand many parents will want to talk to their family doctors and to their pediatricians about the vaccine,” Baker said. “These medical experts know that the vaccine is safe and has been proven to be highly effective, and they are well-positioned to help parents understand the facts so that they can make the decision that’s best for them to vaccinate their kids.”
Dr. Kevin B. Churchwell, president of Boston Children’s, also urged parents to get their youngsters vaccinated. He said unvaccinated children under 12 are at risk for serious health outcomes from COVID-19.
“We do continue to see cases where children contract it, get very ill, and are sometimes hospitalized,” Churchwell said. “This virus is extremely contagious and spreads rapidly. ... Vaccination of children will protect them and will slow the spread of this disease to the unvaccinated and to other very at-risk individuals. Vaccinating children will reduce the toll of this virus on everyone.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.