In the nearly three weeks since U.S. regulators approved COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, more than one in 10 of those children in California have received injections.
But those kids are concentrated in the state’s urban coastal counties. In the Bay Area, about one in four children in the largest counties have already had their first shot, and an astonishing 40% in Marin, once a hotbed of childhood vaccination resistance. But in rural areas there are far fewer vaccinated.
State health officials see vaccinating children as key to mitigating a feared rise in winter infections, and some school districts, including Oakland, will require older students to be vaccinated before attending class from January.
“Vaccine delivery to California children ages 5-11 is off to a good start, with more than 300,000 first doses administered in the first two weeks,” according to the California Department of Public Health. “We are encouraged by this progress, but continue to urge families – from young children to grandparents – to get vaccinated, complete their vaccination course and get a booster once they are eligible to extend their protection against COVID-19 in time for the to enhance your holiday.”
It’s hard to say how California stacks up nationally, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was still in the process of reporting figures for that age group by state as of Friday. California reported as of Friday that 11% of children ages 5 to 11 have received their first shot of the vaccine. Illinois reported 12.4% having at least one shot in that age group, and Texas 7.4%.
Of California’s five most populous counties — all outside the Bay Area — none reported vaccination rates for children ages 5-11 that exceeded the state’s 11% average. Los Angeles reported that 10% had been given a chance.
By contrast, Marin County was the runaway leader with 40.4% of children ages 5 to 11 having at least one of two Pfizer injections, given three weeks apart at one-third the dosage for teens and adults.
dr. Marin County health officer Matt Willis attributed the high numbers to strong public interest in the vaccines and working with local schools to make them readily available.
“It was a super high priority for us,” Willis said. “There was a lot of excitement in Marin when our kids were finally eligible for vaccination, and we’ve done a lot of preparation.”
The Bay Area’s five most populous counties have vaccination rates at least twice that of major Southern California counties: 26.9% in San Francisco, 24.6% in Alameda, 24.5% in Santa Clara, 22% in San Mateo and 21.5% in Contra Costa.
In Santa Clara County, vaccine officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib that children’s vaccinations are shifting from mass vaccination sites to school clinics, but interest has remained stable.
“We’ve long heard that many parents were excited about the opportunity to have their young children vaccinated,” Fenstersheib said.
It’s a different story in most of the rural interior of California, where many counties had vaccination rates for 5- to 11-year-olds below 5%.
Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom visited Kings County, where the vaccination rate was 2.7% Friday, to promote vaccines at a school in Avenal. He complained about what he called disinformation about the safety of the injections, adding that he had the vaccine and a booster shot and that his 12-year-old was vaccinated a few weeks ago and his 9-year-old got the shot later that day. .
“To go to schools like this, you had to get 10 vaccinations,” Newsom told reporters, noting the array of inoculations for diseases like chickenpox and measles that the state already requires for attending public schools. “Vaccinations have been around for a century. They are safe.”
Newsom announced on Oct. 1 that California will add the COVID-19 vaccine to its list of required vaccinations to attend school once they are fully approved by federal regulators for school-age children.
The Food and Drug Administration has fully approved Pfizer’s vaccine for ages 16 and older, but has so far only approved it for emergency use in children ages 5-15. Given the expected federal approval timeline, Newsom said the statewide kids requirement, which must be introduced separately for elementary and secondary schools, likely won’t begin until the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
Without new legislation, personal conviction waivers, which lawmakers abolished in 2015 for other school vaccines, would be allowed.
Despite the statewide time frame, several California school districts have moved forward with their own COVID-19 requirement for students to attend class in person, many of which will take effect in January, including Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified. But those mandates apply to students aged 12 and older. About 69% of students 12-17 statewide have had at least one shot.
Willis said Marin County schools didn’t need the threat of vaccine mandates to vaccinate so many of their children, a remarkable shift given that the county had one of the lowest overall immunization rates at its schools when the state abolished personal creed exemptions in 2015. .
“The culture has changed in Marin around vaccinations,” Willis said. “Our strategy was to do everything we could to educate the community. So far it has been more the carrot than the stick.”
Now parents are flocking to school clinics to vaccinate their children, venues with music, balloons and ‘comfort dogs’ to ‘make it a kid-friendly experience’.
“It feels like a party at these vaccination sites,” Willis said.