Parents in El Paso County are showing strong interest in COVID-19 vaccines for their children, with more than 1,800 children ages 5 to 11 receiving their first shot in the first few days of the rollout.
dr. Michael DiStefano, Chief Medical Officer of Children’s Hospital Colorado, outlined the importance of the pediatric vaccine to local officials at a meeting of the Board of Health in El Paso County this week, noting that children are much more susceptible to infection with the spread of the delta variant than they were before. He was faced with a few skeptical questions during the meeting, followed by hours of public testimony addressed to the board of directors who questioned the vaccine and pushed back any vaccine mandate. El Paso County officials said they do not plan to issue a mandate.
DiStefano described an increase in COVID-19, saying that children were responsible for 5% of infections in the early days of the pandemic and now 25%. While most children do not become seriously ill from the virus, he has treated children who have developed breathing problems among other complications.
“It hasn’t been as benign as the general population has thought,” he said.
The children’s hospital system has cared for approximately 2,000 children for COVID and its complications since the pandemic began and that has included multiple children who have been flown from Colorado Springs to the system’s cardiac intensive care unit due to conditions they developed as a result of their COVID-19. infections, he said. The hospitals have also dealt with a large number of children with respiratory diseases requiring care.
“While kids were resilient to this, from a healthcare perspective it was challenging,” DiStefano said.
In El Paso County, three COVID-19 patients, ages 10 to 19, have died from the virus, public health data shows.
Children’s Hospital participated in the clinical trial for the Pfizer vaccine for children, which enrolled 252 participants, or approximately 10% of all children in the global study. The vaccine was found to be safe and nearly 91% effective at preventing infection in those 5 to 11, DiStefano said.
Colorado Springs City Councilman Dave Donelson asked several questions about the vaccine’s risk, including whether it can cause inflammation of the heart wall.
While the vaccine can cause heart inflammation in rare cases, DiStefano said, he has seen more problems with heart inflammation in children who develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but serious condition that children can develop after they get the coronavirus.
He was unaware of children requiring hospital care after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in Colorado Springs, he said.
He also plans to vaccinate his own 10-year-old daughter after she recovers from COVID, he said.
El Paso County began rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for those 5 to 11 last weekend and reached 1,819 children by the end of the day Monday, said Michelle Beyrle, a spokeswoman for the county’s public health.
“We’ve seen great interest in pediatric vaccines in El Paso County so far, with clinics filling up very quickly. Many parents have expressed relief at the opportunity to vaccinate their children,” she said.
The Children’s Hospital’s vaccination clinics for this Saturday and Sunday were both full on Thursday, the website showed.
There are plenty of other pediatric COVID-19 vaccine clinics available; a full list is available at elpasocountyhealth.org/how-can-i-get-a-vaccine.