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After months of waiting, young kids in St. Louis can get the COVID-19 vaccine

Pharmacy Tech Andrew Ballard fills syringes with the coronavirus vaccine at Christian Hospital in St. Louis on March 4, 2021.
Sarah Fentem
St. Louis Public Radio
Pharmacy Tech Andrew Ballard fills syringes with the coronavirus vaccine at Christian Hospital in St. Louis in 2021. Children under 5 are now eligible to receive the vaccine after the FDA approved its safety earlier this month.

St. Louis-area clinics, hospitals and pharmacies have begun vaccinating children 6 months to 5 years old against the coronavirus.

Earlier this month, federal officials recommended the COVID-19 vaccine for that age group after the Food and Drug Administration determined it was safe and effective. Doses of the vaccine, scaled down in size for smaller children, began arriving in St. Louis late last week.

Children 5 and olderhave been receiving the vaccine for eight months. The delayed approval for younger children could affect parents’ willingness to have their children vaccinated, said Dr. Kendra Holmes, vice president of Affinia Healthcare, which operates several community health clinics in the region.

“Some parents are going to be more hesitant because of that delay,” Holmes said. “But then there are some parents that have called and have reached out to us with social media, and they’re like, ‘When can I get my child in?’ And so it just really depends on the parent and the level of education and understanding that they have about the vaccine.”

Unlike adult vaccination events, which can be done en masse and quickly, vaccinations for small children can take a long time, Holmes said. Parents often have more questions to ask.

Affinia is booking full pediatric exams for every young child who gets the vaccine, she said.

“It's important for us to just provide a space for parents to ask questions,” Holmes said. “Just really meet people where they are, listen to their concerns and respond with the science.”

Some parents remain skeptical, but others have eagerly awaited the decision, said Sara Evers, acting director of the St. Charles County Department of Public Health.

“This age group, it's not like you can stick a mask on a baby,” Evers said. “Some of the other mitigation measures that we can utilize as adults we can't use with this population.”

Parents can vaccinate their young children at the St. Charles County health department’s childhood clinics on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, but must make an appointment in advance.

The health department is stocking up on coloring supplies, movies and toys to keep children occupied for the half-hour they need to wait after their shot, she said.

Making the vaccine available for young children marks an important step in the ongoing effort to combat the coronavirus, Evers said. Parents of young children have for months been stuck in limbo: They’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus but still need to take precautions to protect their unvaccinated toddlers and babies.

“It's not just that, ‘I want to move on with COVID,' or ‘I think COVID is going to be over,’ anything like that,” she said. “It's more so the matter of, ‘I now have an additional resource that I can utilize to keep my family safe.’”

Parents also can schedule vaccine appointments through their regular pediatricians,localhealthdepartments,hospitals,low-cost health centers and CVS and other pharmacies.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.