Families and health care workers get ready to vaccinate kids 6 months and up this week

June 20, 2022
Nurse Haley Jagarwal holds a rubber demo baby. She is wearing a surgical mask and a blue coat. The faux baby is wrapped in a blanket.
Nurse Haley Jagerwal tells trainees that babies need to be vaccinated in the leg because it's more muscular than the arm. Photos by Sarah Pack

Nurse Haley Jagarwal held a rubber demo baby she called Mitchum as she helped MUSC Health employees get ready for a moment they — and a lot of families — have been waiting for. “We’re doing Pfizer. This will be a three-dose series. The shots will be about a month apart,” she said.

It was a matter-of-fact training session representing what for many is a milestone for the coronavirus pandemic. A year and a half after the first COVID cases showed up in the U.S., children as young as 6 months old can now get vaccinated against COVID-19.

State health officials are distributing the vaccines this week to health care providers across the state. MUSC Health-Lancaster has already received some. MUSC Health-Charleston expects its doses to arrive on June 21. Other MUSC Health sites are on track to get the vaccines for small children this week as well.

“I’m actually excited they’re opened up for younger kids to come in. I think it’s going to be busy when they do start coming in,” said Melissa Rouse, a licensed practical nurse who attended the training session. “We heard feedback from parents coming in. Some are excited because they’re ready to travel. Their middle-aged kids are ready to go and vaccinated, but not their babies. They’re trying to do whatever they can to protect their young ones, too.”

Wall of drawings by children who were vaccinated. They are in crayon. 
Older kids who have already been vaccinated wrote positive messages to hang in MUSC Health's Lockwood Boulevard vaccination site.

That protection, in the form of a vaccine, will be a lower dose for children ages 6 months to 4 years than the dose that kids five and up receive. And that’s not the only difference.

Jagerwal, the nurse who’s facilitating the education for the clinical staff on the new vaccine administrations, said that because babies’ and younger children’s legs have more muscle than their arms, that’s where most of them will get the shots. There will be exceptions for larger children whose parents want the shot in the arm.

Doctors at MUSC Children’s Health said the vaccines are coming at a good time. “You probably have heard that since early April, cases have been on the rise within the pediatric and the adult population nationwide, in the region, and specifically in the state in South Carolina,” said pediatric critical care physician Elizabeth Mack, M.D.

Andrew Atz, M.D., chair of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, has firsthand experience with vaccinating younger children. He’s led vaccine trials for kids to determine whether sure the shots are effective and safe.

“This has been going on, specifically vaccinations for small children, for a very long time here at MUSC. We started our first trial participant in June of 2021. So we have done this for more than a year,” Atz said.

“This is not a run-it-out-as-quickly-as-possible-and-get-it-approved scenario. It has been very methodically studied, and on purpose studied for much longer and in different ways than any study was done in adults, because we all appreciate the children are a more vulnerable population.”

Child Life specialist talks with nurses who are seated about techniques for giving small children vaccines. 
Child Life manager Betsy McMillan, who specializes in making children as comfortable and happy as possible in medical settings, holds a noisemaker that can be used to entertain and distract young children while they're getting shots.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the shots its seal of approval over the weekend, saying in its statement: “COVID-19 vaccines have undergone — and will continue to undergo — the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any side effects, Atz said. That’s part of what the safety monitoring keeps track of.

“The side effects are reasonably similar to side effects after other routine childhood vaccines, which are pain at the injection site, crankiness for a day or so. And sometimes a low-grade fever in a minority of the patients,” Atz said.

“But when a Food and Drug Administration panel voted on the question of whether, with all available data, do the benefits of the COVID vaccine outweigh the risks? And based on the data that we have, which come from literally thousands of children, the answer was unanimously yes.”

Mack said the purpose of the vaccines is to keep safe and out of the hospital. “We have three children hospitalized due to COVID here in our children's hospital right now. And if you look at the DHEC data, we've been trending up in terms of case counts over the last week as well.

DHEC stands for the Department of Health and Environmental Control, South Carolina’s health agency.

Mack said that since the start of the pandemic, about 140 children 6 months to 4 years old have been hospitalized with COVID at the Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.I think that is a compelling argument” for young children to get vaccinated, she said.

Another argument: Atz said vaccines’ protection goes beyond the person who gets a shot. “Remember, those children live in households that have adults, may have grandparents, may have other immunocompromised people. So the right decision ultimately is more than just about the child.”

He and Mack recommended that parents with questions about the shot for younger kids talk with their pediatricians.

Jagarwal, the trainer, said the vaccine could have a positive impact on the next school year. “Hopefully, this will bring down rates in preschools and elementary schools.”

MUSC Health will be offering the vaccines for children 6 months and up at its Lockwood Boulevard site and Rutledge Tower to begin with. There are plans to possibly expand to other sites. For more information about scheduling an appointment once the doses have arrived, go to our scheduling page.

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