Officials expect COVID vaccines to be available to children under 5 early next week. Here’s what you need to know

Doses of the COVID-19 vaccine
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

With the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines on the brink of approval for children ages 6 months to 5 and 6 years, respectively, Santa Cruz County health officials are gearing up to make sure everyone has access. Pediatricians and primary care providers will be relied on more heavily in this round of vaccines because most pharmacies aren’t licensed to provide vaccines to the younger cohort. 

Families with children younger than 5 are on the edges of their seats after waiting for more than two years for a COVID-19 vaccine for their young ones.

Pediatrician and Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Cal Gordon is just as excited with the news that the vaccine for children is just around the corner.

“As a pediatrician, I’m delighted,” Gordon said. “I think this is a major milestone. We’re almost two and a half years into this pandemic and finally, our last cohort can be vaccinated.”

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to give emergency authorization for the vaccines for children as young as 6 months up to 6 years. Following the approval, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to give its authorization, and then the Western States Scientific Review Workgroup must finally approve it before California’s children can start receiving the vaccine. If approved, the Moderna vaccine will be available for children under 6, while Pfizer’s will be available for kids 6 months to 5 years old.

If all goes as planned, Gordon estimates that children in Santa Cruz County will start getting inoculated early next week.

“They’ve had sufficient numbers to show that it is safe and they are effective,” he said. “They’re effective in the sense that, while there’s some likelihood that you may get an infection you’re not likely to get hospitalized or have long-term symptoms from this if you’re vaccinated.”

As for side effects, Gordon said the studies showed that no children experienced significant side effects linked to the vaccines.

So how do families sign their kids up for the vaccine and where do they go to receive it? If families have primary care providers, the first advice is contact them first.

For families who don’t have a primary care provider or don’t have insurance, there are several community centers and clinics that will be providing vaccines to this cohort. Salud Para La Gente, the Emeline Health Center and the Watsonville Health Center are just several of the local centers that will offer vaccines to children younger than 5. See details below.

Then there are the county and state websites listing community centers and clinics offering the vaccine, just as they have done and continue to do for people of all ages; contact information is below. Once the vaccines receive final authorization, families can visit the state’s website, MyTurn.gov, to sign up for an appointment. MyTurn will provide options for appointments at local pharmacies licensed to provide vaccines to children. To see a more comprehensive list of locations providing vaccines, you can also visit the county’s website.

For our youngest population, at least one access point is different. No pharmacies are licensed to provide the vaccine for children younger than 3, and few are licensed for children ages 3 and up, according to Gordon. In addition, each pharmacy chain may have distinct regulations for providing vaccines to children younger than 5.

Because of that, he said primary care providers will be more heavily relied upon for this round of vaccinations.

As formal national approval is in the works, Santa Cruz County officials are deciding whether or not to host vaccine clinics. School districts will not be providing clinics, but the County Office of Education is planning to provide a town hall on a date yet to be determined.

The vaccines are free for all, with no need for any out-of-pocket expense or insurance reimbursement.

However, for families visiting a community health center, such as Salud Para La Gente, there could be a cost for the health care visit, according to Gordon.

Options to get children vaccinated once it becomes available:

  • Contact your primary care provider to schedule an appointment.
  • If you don’t have a primary care provider, options include:

    • Salud Para La Gente: To schedule an appointment, text VAX to 831-728-0222.
    • Emeline Health Center: To make an appointment, contact the main line at 831-454-4100.
    • Watsonville Health Center: To make an appointment, call 831-763-8185. You may also contact the clinic main line at 831-763-8400.

For more information on accessing the vaccine:

  • Visit the county’s COVID-19 vaccination website to find clinics, community centers and pharmacies that provide the vaccine.
  • Visit the state’s COVID-19 vaccination website to find clinics, community centers and pharmacies that provide the vaccine.