Tucson’s Mesquite Pediatrics received 300 COVID-19 vaccine doses Tuesday and immediately offered families a drive-thru shot clinic for this Sunday.
Within an hour, all 300 spots were taken.
“We weren’t sure how many were going to want it, and they asked us not to over-order,” Dr. Jeff Couchman said of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 that received final federal approval on Tuesday.
“We estimated far too low, unfortunately. This is the most important thing we can do to protect the community right now.”
The vaccine is becoming available here just as cases in Pima County’s schools have increased substantially week over week: 738 new school-related cases this week, with 623 infections in students and 115 in teachers and staff.
During the week before this, the total weekly increase was 223 new cases. The week before that was 222.
The data for the county’s weekly reporting is pulled at 4 p.m. each Wednesday and for the week ending Nov. 4, the cumulative total of school cases was up to 4,251. The previous weeks before this one: 3,513, 3,290 and 3,068.
So far, 11,400 pediatric doses have been ordered in Pima County, although it is unclear if all of have arrived yet.
What’s also unknown: whether the initial heavy demand here is an indication of how many parents and guardians will ultimately seek out the newly available shots.
“If uptake trends for children aged 5-11 match the experience in Pima County for adolescents aged 12-17, around 60% of the newly eligible population will seek vaccination after several months,” Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer, wrote last week to the Board of Supervisors.
If that were to play out, Pima County would see two-thirds of the eligible child population here vaccinated.
Nationally, by contrast, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates one-third of families will vaccinate children as soon as the vaccine is offered.
‘Decrease risks for everyone’
For some parents, protecting their children and helping stop community spread can’t come fast enough.
When Necoe Otto-Parkinson heard about the drive-thru appointments being offered at Mesquite Pediatrics, 2350 N. Kibler Place, she quickly called to get appointments for her two boys, ages 9 and 11.
“We’ve been thinking about this, and hoping for this day, since the pandemic started,” she said. “This is a big way we can help the numbers go down and decrease risks for everyone.”
She said she is not worried about the vaccine beyond what’s typical any time a child gets a shot. She’s far more concerned about the actual virus and what it can do to the body, in the short and long terms.
“Overall, I see that the benefits far outweigh any potential negative,” Otto-Parkinson said of the vaccine. “The science says it’s beneficial and it’s recommended and it’s safe, and we also feel that’s the case.”
County distribution plans
There are 88,040 children between the ages of 5 and 11 in Pima County, county data shows, and about 111,000 doses will be needed to immunize that population.
The county’s health department plans to offer the shot to children at five schools per day once it starts distributing it here.
The vaccine will also be offered at vaccine clinics on weekends, and there will be a homebound vaccination program for children not in school.
Consent forms for parents and guardians will be provided for the shot.
Additionally, vaccines will be available at all the Health Department clinics, with information and times available at www.pima.gov; click “COVID vaccine.”
‘All for this since the beginning’
On Wednesday this week, Agua Caliente Elementary School in the Tanque Verde School District shut down in-person classes for two weeks because of a COVID-19 outbreak among students.
The announcement followed the county’s health department recommending that the school, at 11420 E. Limberlost Road, be closed temporarily.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been more than 40 positive cases reported by that school. The student enrollment there is listed at 472, and about 40% of the students wear masks, according to an email sent out to parents this week.
Steve Bosse’s three children attend St. Michael’s School, where he said there has not been a single COVID-19 case since the pandemic began. The students are required to wear masks, he said, and vaccines are required for staff.
Bosse’s children get medical care at Mesquite Pediatrics, and he has signed them up for the Sunday shot clinic.
“We’re disappointed it took this long,” he said. “We’ve been all for this since the beginning.”
Since many clinics are limited on space, it’s often necessary to hold drive-thru clinics or have staff designated to spend the day giving the shot.
Callie Pediatrics at 6636 E. Carondelet Dr. is not planning a drive-thru at this time, said Dr. Michelle Foth, but it will be holding shot-only clinics during regular clinic hours with a medical assistant giving the shots. It received its first 300 doses Tuesday.
Parents and caregivers have to stay with the child for 15 minutes afterward to make sure there’s not a reaction. For children who have had previous allergic reactions to medications or vaccines, the wait is 30 minutes.
Dr. Jessica Lane of Catalina Pediatrics said many of the patients they treat are from Catalina Foothills and Tucson Unified school districts. They are seeing occasional COVID cases among the children, she said, but most tests are coming back negative.
Lane’s clinic, at 3085 N. Swan Road, received 2,100 doses Tuesday and will soon be offering shots to its patients either in the office or at drive-thru clinics it will set up.
“Everyone is really, really excited,” she said, adding the practice is taking new patients at this time. “We’ve been looking forward to it being approved for this age group.”
Children 5 to 11 get one-third the vaccine dose that teens receive. Lane said the same side effects that can bother adults and teens after COVID vaccines, such as fever, body aches and upset stomach, can also happen for children, but typically it is milder and does not last as long.
Beyond protecting individual children, Lane said she is excited to get vaccines out to this age group to help slow the spread of the virus overall.
“It’s about community health,” she said. “We know the vaccine is very safe and very effective.”
The Arizona Department of Health Services encourages parents with questions about COVID-19 vaccination to contact their health-care provider or visit azhealth.gov/COVID19vaccines. The bilingual ADHS COVID-19 Hotline is available to answer questions about providers and more at 844-542-8201 (select Option 8 to speak with a navigator).