When the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in kids ages 12-15 just three weeks before the end of the school year in Jeffco, Jefferson County Public Health was faced with its latest challenge in a …
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When the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use in kids ages 12-15 just three weeks before the end of the school year in Jeffco, Jefferson County Public Health was faced with its latest challenge in a year full of them.
“We were asked to hit all of our schools in the next two weeks,” said Marius Nielsen, who has been helping coordinate vaccination efforts for JCPH.
Hitting as many schools as possible was important, Nielsen said, because JCPH knew that they presented the best place to reach as many 12-15 year olds as possible. In total, the district was able to hold events at 34 schools out of the 155 in the district.
The urgency had also increased in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases spiked significantly among those ages 10-19 and 20-29 around the end of April, although they have since declined sharply following the same trajectory as overall cases in the county.
While contracting COVID-19 has generally been considered far less risky for those in younger age groups than it is for their grandparents or even parents, JCPH Executive Director Dawn Comstock said it is still important for kids to be vaccinated because they can spread the virus to friends and family.
There is also still some risk of serious complications from the virus, including hospitalization and possibly death, for people in that age group.
At one such vaccine distribution event held on May 27 at Bell Middle School in Golden, a team of about 10 nurses spent three hours vaccinating students, family members and anyone else who showed up. The events were promoted by the schools, Nielsen said, but no advanced registration or appointment was required.
Christine Billings, JCPH’s COVID-19 emergency response commander, said that vaccinating kids is basically like vaccinating anyone else, except that a parent needs to provide permission.
“That hasn’t been much of an issue,” Billing said. “Either the parent is present or they have usually been able to provide clinical consent by phone.”
Nielsen said they have also observed several situations where a child’s desire to get vaccinated has led their parent to also do so.
“That’s something we are seeing a lot is the child has been exposed to information that leads them to want to get it (the vaccine) and that ends up being the catalyst for the parent who has gotten it,” they said.
Nielsen said that about 11,000 people had been vaccinated at the JCPH school events, and the organization was hoping to add about 2,000 more to that at the remaining events.
Nielsen and Billings said that while JCPH considers that number a success given the limited amount of time, it is also getting ready to continue to target vaccine-eligible kids at pop-up vaccine clinics at pools, farmer’s markets, libraries, youth sporting events and other places frequented by kids.
“We have a lot of big plans for once schools close but we are also taking any and all ideas from the community about where to set up clinics to reach people who haven’t been reached,” said Billings, who said people can call 303-239-7000 to make a request for a clinic location.
Nielsen also noted that JCPH now has lots of capacity of all three vaccines as well as mobile clinics that are capable of stopping at up to six sites in a day. The week before, one clinic briefly even set up on a busy street corner at the request of a community member.
Making sure vaccines are accessible is now more important than ever, they said, because with 70% of the county having already received the vaccine and supply now exceeding demand, those who remain generally haven’t been vaccinated because they’ve either struggled with access or are vaccine-hesitant.
“With both of those populations, it really helps to have them see the vaccine in their community,” they said.
Billings compared the latest vaccine distribution efforts to a jigsaw puzzle “where we are just trying to put the pieces in the right places.”
“Gone are the days where we would administer 1,000 doses a day at a single site,” she said. “Now 50-100 doses is really good.”
Of course, there is still one large population that is still not eligible for the vaccine: children under 11.
But with that population expected to be approved for vaccination later this year, Billings said JCPH is already thinking about how to reach that population — and said the approach will likely be different from how the county aimed to reach older populations.
“I think with the 5-11 year olds we will really be looking to have those vaccinations given by a trusted pediatrician,” said Billings, who said pediatricians will have the advantage of having earned families trust, which could be more important when it comes to vaccinating younger children, and could also deliver the COVID-19 vaccine alongside other vaccines typically given to children.
“At that point it will start to look like a typical vaccine like the chicken pox or measles,” she said.
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