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Vaccine events for St. Louis children fill up as city officials work to leave no kids behind

Vaccine events for St. Louis children fill up as city officials work to leave no kids behind

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ST. LOUIS — Jaidyn Johnson, 6, got a high-five from the mayor after receiving his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday at Affinia Healthcare, which has several clinics across the city that play a key role in getting families vaccinated.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones was visiting the clinic near downtown to encourage the newly eligible age group to get vaccinated and explain how city government is working to remove barriers to getting the shots.

Officials are partnering with community organizations such as the YMCA, schools, hospitals and federally subsidized health clinics located in underserved areas.

“The pediatric vaccination program is going to be a little different,” Jones said. “We have to meet our children in places where they feel comfortable, and federally qualified health centers like Affinia are trusted community partners.”

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones visits Affinia Healthcare near downtown on Wednesday to encourage kids to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and visit with families. Delaysha Thompson, 30, of St. Louis, was there getting the vaccine for her son, Jaidyn Johnson, 6. Video by Michele Munz

Federal regulators granted final clearance on Nov. 2 for children ages 5 to 11 to get low-dose shots of the Pfizer vaccine, opening the door to an additional 28 million U.S. children to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“It could mean larger yet safe end-of-the-year holiday gatherings for families, fewer interruptions to in-person learning for students … and a reduction in cases and deaths associated with SARS CoV-2 infection in city of St. Louis communities,” said Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, director of the St. Louis Department of Health.

White House health officials said on Wednesday that the vaccination effort is off to a strong start and by the end of the day, more than 900,000 of the kid doses will have been administered. Additionally, about 700,000 first-shot appointments are scheduled for the coming days.

Interest has been high across the St. Louis area as the first vaccination events for young kids got underway over the weekend and continue this week.

Appointments quickly filled for the St. Louis County Department of Health’s first clinic Saturday at its headquarters in Berkeley, when some 250 kids were vaccinated.

The St. Charles County Department of Public Health was swamped for its first event Wednesday afternoon at Family Arena.

“Our event has been full since the end of last week,” said spokesman Doug Bolnick. “We booked the 240 appointments quickly and added another 120 slots, which filled as soon as they were opened. And, our two additional events in the coming days at county libraries are full as well.”

SSM Health is hosting drive-thru vaccination clinics from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at its hospitals and offices across the area in Richmond Heights, St. Charles, Wentzville, Florissant and Sappington. Parents must make an appointment by calling 314-955-9600.

Affinia Healthcare also will provide child doses as well as adult doses of all three vaccines from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the O’Fallon YMCA, 4343 W. Florissant in St. Louis.

Affinia started providing appointments for the vaccine at its clinics on Monday. Walk-ins are also taken at its 1717 Biddle Street location between 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. Tuesday through Friday.

“We started receiving calls and emails and inquiries of various kinds the minute the vaccine was announced to be available,” Affinia spokeswoman Yvonne Buhlinger said. “The initial response has been great, very robust.”

The estimated increase in vaccinations in elementary school age children appears similar to a jump seen in May, when adolescents ages 12 to 15 became eligible for shots. That surge soon fizzled, however.

The latest statewide data vaccination data in Missouri shows 45% of those ages 15 to 17 and 13% of those ages 5 to 14 have initiated vaccination.

In St. Louis and St. Louis County, health officials are also facing disparities in vaccination rates among affluent and less affluent ZIP code areas — a disparity they are concerned will become entrenched as those adults are the gatekeepers to their children’s care.

In the city, the latest data shows about 75% of all new COVID-19 cases in October have been among Black residents, who make up about 46% of the population.

Jaidyn’s mom, Dalaysha Thompson, 30, of St. Louis, said she has asthma and was vaccinated this year as soon as she became eligible.

“I got it to protect him,” she said.

Thompson said she couldn’t wait for him to get vaccinated as another layer of protection.

“My biggest thing is just being safe,” she said. “Especially if it will help get rid of COVID, or stop the spread of it.”

Buhlinger with Affinia said the initial response and interest among parents gives her hope.

“It shows people know we are here because they are reaching out to us,” she said. “They also trust us, and that is something to which we are proud.”

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