Local parents anxiously await kids’ vaccine eligibility as Pfizer OK nears

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Caroline Morgan is attending a virtual public school this fall, but with federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds, her mom, Shelley Morgan, hopes the 4th grader will be back in person in January.

Shelley Morgan

“We just want her to have both doses by the time she goes back,” Morgan said Wednesday, not long after the White House shared plans to make shots available to nearly 30 million within several weeks.

Nora Pettyjohn will be eligible, barely, when the go-ahead comes. The South Side School kindergartner’s dad, Sam Pettyjohn, said his oldest getting the jab will help Nora and the family “hopefully get back to a certain amount of normal.”

That journey could begin as soon as early November. Formal approval is expected after a Nov. 2-3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory meeting.

Ballad Health Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift told News Channel 11 she expects plentiful supply, with pediatricians being the go-to choice for many parents.

“We do think that a lot of pediatricians in the area will have this vaccine available so certainly, call your pediatrician, have those conversations, make those appointments,” Swift said.

The Biden administration said Wednesday it expects the 10 microgram packaged doses necessary for the task should be headed toward providers very soon after approval.

“We’re really hopeful that by maybe that first full week of November we may have the green light to move ahead with vaccination for this age group,” Swift said.

The two-dose regimen for people 12 and older uses 30 microgram doses 21 days apart. The two doses for this age group also will be three weeks apart.

Swift said supply of the Pfizer vaccine is plentiful, but providers expect a brief wait — perhaps a couple days — before they receive the differently packaged kids’ doses.

Simply drawing 10 micrograms from existing adult vials isn’t an option, and the children’s packaging will be color coded. Swift said that added level of caution, along with smaller needles for children’s vaccinations, will “make it really easy for our staff out there to make sure they’re giving the right vaccine.”

Morgan and Pettyjohn shared their reasons for getting their kids vaccinated with News Channel 11. They also shared their perspectives on vaccine safety and spoke of their children’s level of understanding about COVID.

A path toward normal

In the Morgan household, 9-year-old Caroline is the only one left unvaccinated after her brother Charlie, a 12-year-old, got the jab shortly after eligibility for 12- to 15-year-olds opened.

Shelley’s husband and her mother are also in the home.

The Morgans went the virtual school route for both kids this fall, though Shelley Morgan said they’ve got no misgivings about Johnson City Schools’ approach to COVID mitigation. She said Caroline was exposed in multiple places, including at school and at church.

“We just want her to have every layer of protection that she can so that she can go back to school and we can feel like we’ve done everything we can do,” Morgan said.

Morgan said she’s looking forward to Caroline being more protected not just at school but at Girl Scouts, softball and church – but moreso to her daughter being less nervous about COVID’s potential impact on her.

Caroline has learned of friends’ siblings having been sick and even some of her friends having contracted the virus. Having those conversations is hard, Morgan said.

“I hate for her to be nervous about getting sick…she’s not a big worrier, I’m not a huge worrier, we don’t get sick often, but I just think if it’s available we should do it.”

“I’m ready for her to feel confident in knowing that she’s going to be well.”

Pettyjohn said he and his wife are excited to get Nora vaccinated as soon as they can.

Sam Pettyjohn

“It’s going to open up a lot of avenues for us to do more traveling, hopefully get back to a certain amount of normal — doing all the fun stuff with her friends,” he said.

“We have family members that have some comorbidities here and just feeling a lot more comfortable having her around them and just engaging in the things we love about having our family so close.”

Pettyjohn said even at just 5, Nora has a decent grasp of vaccines’ importance in helping slow the spread of COVID and protect others, not just herself.

“We’re talking to her about the importance of keeping her friends safe, keeping herself safe, keeping her teachers safe by wearing her mask and washing her hands,” he said. “Really she’s taken to wanting to do those things for her community and we’re really proud of her and proud of what they’re doing at her school to keep them safe.”

Ballad’s Swift said if parents see a pediatrician without the capacity to offer the vaccine — or just don’t want to wait — it will be available at local health departments and many other places including Ballad’s Mall at Johnson City vaccination site.

“We have some very pediatric trained nurses in that site and we don’t expect long  lines,” Swift said. “We don’t expect that to be the main point of vaccination for this age group but we do want to keep that as a resource.”

Swift expects “lots of announcements” and a quick effort to determine the best way to maximize uptake and make sure the vaccine is as widely available as necessary. 

“It’s going to take a coordinated regional effort, which we’ve done over the past two vaccine rollouts so I’m sure it will go smoothly,” Swift said. “People will have plenty of options.” 

Fully embracing the science

Now Nora Pettyjohn is ready to do her part further by enduring what no 5-year-old in her right mind looks forward to — a shot.

“I mean, she is five, but she has a very strong understanding of this idea, ‘Oh, when I’m vaccinated, I’ll be able to keep my friends safe, keep my family safe’ and in general, I think she gets it,” Pettyjohn said.

That’s partly due to her parents’ acceptance of the science behind the vaccines.

“These things are tested rigorously,” Pettyjohn said, adding that they’re among the safest disease prevention technologies available.

Swift said she knows opinions like Pettyjohn’s and Morgan’s are not the case across the board. She said providers’ jobs are to have conversations with people who have questions. 

“As a parent I understand, people want those questions answered before they talk about vaccine for their child and so, the good news is the studies are remarkable in this age group (and) in the 12 to 18 age group. 

“We know this vaccine is safe, we know it’s effective, we know it’s going to prevent illness and hospitalization.” 

Along with giving him a level of comfort Nora will be safer at school, Pettyjohn said, the vaccine “also makes me feel like she’ll be keeping her teachers and all the folks that work at the school safer, regardless of the decisions on masks. This is another layer of protection that we can offer to our school employees and my daughter and all her friends and our community in general.”

For her part, Morgan said she respects the decisions of people who’ve chosen not to be vaccinated.

“I understand that it’s new and people have fears and nerves about that,” she said. “We just feel like it’s the right thing for our family to do – and I’ve been vaccinated, my husband’s vaccinated, our son is vaccinated, our mother’s vaccinated and everyone’s been fine and we’re just trusting that she’ll do well with it.”

Morgan acknowledged she’s also dealt directly with how controversial it’s become.

“We have some family members who questioned our decision and didn’t think it was the wisest move to make. More of our friends back in Georgia when I posted my picture of my shot and my (bandage), I got a lot of texts saying ‘what are you doing, why would you get that shot, it’s crazy, nobody knows anything about it’ and all of that.”

She said she really wasn’t surprised and that neither she nor her friends and family members have let their differences divide them.

“We’re all still fine. They still love me even though I made that decision and I still love them when they didn’t make that decision.”

Swift said she hopes people with remaining questions will consult health care providers.

“We have that information,” she said. “I really encourage parents to reach out to their pediatrician, reach out to the health department, reach out to us at Ballad Health. We’ll be glad to have those conversations and help you make that decision to get your child vaccinated.”

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