Health district begins giving COVID-19 vaccine shots to children 5-11 years old

Health district begins giving COVID-19 vaccine shots to children 5-11 years old

Wade Vandervort

Dario Alonso, 10, receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination from registered nurse KJ Dionisio at the Southern Nevada Health District Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021 | 10:10 p.m.

Kathuy Alonso and her two young sons walked past a vocal group of protesters Wednesday to get the boys vaccinated against COVID-19, but for the Las Vegas family, it was worth it.

She wants her boys to be safe from the coronavirus as they play sports and visit older relatives.

They discussed it as a family and agreed.

”We just took the step of being responsible and keeping them safe and everyone else safe,” she said.

Dario, 10, and Diego, 13, sat side by side in an exam room at the Southern Nevada Health District’s main clinic to get their first dose of the shots — Dario in his left arm, Diego in his right. A nurse in cheerful tropical-print scrubs asked Dario if he was excited, and his eyes crinkled in a smile behind his mask as he answered “yeah.”

The nurse then confirmed with their mom that she had her permission to give the shots.

“Absolutely, yes,” she said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late October granted emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 5-11. Some local pharmacies started giving shots last weekend, but Wednesday’s debut with SNHD made the vaccine widely available across Clark County.

SNHD’s JoAnne Rupiper said the district received 21,000 of the lower children’s doses this week and will be able to order more as needed.

With chants of “Shut it down!” a couple dozen protesters on the sidewalk outside the clinic attempted to drown out health district officials as they explained the vaccine’s safety and efficacy to reporters. They also called after parents who walked into the clinic that the shots were a form of child abuse.

One man walked hand in hand with two little girls, one wearing a tutu, past the protesters. Security guards were between the shot-seekers and the protesters.

“The health district encourages parents to bring eligible children to be vaccinated,” Dr. Fermin Leguen, SNHD’s health officer, calmly told reporters as the protesters shouted.

Scott Black, a North Las Vegas City councilman and chairman of the SNHD Board of Health, acknowledged the protesters.

“Not everybody wants it but those that want it can get it,” he said.

Las Vegas pediatrician David Di John said that parents who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 themselves are generally more comfortable getting their kids the shot. 

Those who are more reluctant say they’re concerned about long-term effects and the perceived novelty of the quickly developed vaccine. Many think their kids won’t get sick.

“I wish I could dissuade them from that belief because I see the same kids in the hospitals,” Di John said. “I see the kids that are on ventilators. I’ve seen children who have died from this illness” or from complications.

More than 37,000 children 17 and under in Clark County have contracted COVID-19, and 269 have been hospitalized, according to SNHD.

Di John said it’s hard to say if a child will get a serious case of COVID-19, but kids are at high risk of infection, especially being back in school.

Sometimes that pitch works with parents. Sometimes it doesn’t.

“Sometimes people really have hardcore concerns because of things that they’ve heard or read, and a lot of it unfortunately is bad information,” Di John said.

Brian Knudsen, a Las Vegas City councilman and board of health member, said when he first heard there was a vaccine available, he wanted his children to get the shots before him. He has already spoken with his 6-year-old son, talking about how “Sesame Street’s” Big Bird also promoted the shot. When Knudsen’s 3-year-old can get vaccinated, she’ll get the shot too, he said.

Kathuy Alonso said she heard the protesters talking about their rights.

“It was my right too, as a parent, to take the decision to make my kids safe,” she said.

Vaccinations for anyone over age 5 will be available at the SNHD main office, 208 S. Decatur Blvd., from 6:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Mondays; 6:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 6:15 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Walk-ins are welcome. The clinic will be closed today in observance of Veterans Day and Nov. 25 and 26 for the Thanksgiving holiday.

To make an appointment for a vaccine at the SNHD office or other locations throughout the Las Vegas Valley, go online here. Appointments are not yet available for those ages 5-11 through the online booking system, and parents are asked to walk their children into any of the clinics offering pediatric vaccines.