COVID-19 shots for Illinois’ youngest residents begin

About half a dozen families were already waiting in the parking lot of Rana-Reagan Pharmacy in Bloomingdale when it opened Monday morning.

Co-owner Bhavna Modi told the families that COVID-19 vaccines for young children had not yet arrived, and they might want to check back later. But they insisted on waiting. Some had brought coolers with food for the day.

“They said they don’t mind waiting,” Modi said. “It’s very emotional. They say their kids will be able to go to summer school and see their grandparents.”

Their patience was soon rewarded. The Bloomingdale pharmacy received its first shipment of Moderna vaccines for young children around 10:45 a.m. and began administering them within minutes, becoming one of the first locations in the state to give out the long-awaited shots.

For more than two years, many families with children under 5 have waited for COVID-19 vaccines for their youngest kids — watching as every other age group was given the opportunity to get immunized. This weekend, they cheered when vaccines for the youngest set were finally approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Monday, some Illinois providers began giving the first shots. Many more Illinois pharmacies, doctors’ offices and health departments plan to start administering the vaccines in the coming days.

Health leaders are urging parents to check with their pediatricians first to see if they’ll have vaccines available. Some pediatricians are planning to offer the vaccine and others are not.

Walgreens plans to start vaccinating 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds this week. Illinois pharmacists can only vaccinate children 3 and older, but CVS Health will give Pfizer shots to children ages 18 months through 4 years starting Tuesday at its MinuteClinics, which are staffed by family nurse practitioners, physician associates and nurses.

COVID-19 shots for Illinois' youngest residents begin

The Chicago Department of Public Health is planning a number of events for children 6 months and older throughout the summer. Various county health departments are also planning to offer vaccines this week.

Though some parents remain hesitant about vaccines for their kids, those who streamed through the doors of Rana-Reagan Pharmacy on Monday were excited and relieved. Some traveled hours to the pharmacy, after hearing about it on the Facebook group Chicago Vaccine Hunters.

Trista Countryman drove for about an hour from Plainfield to get Moderna vaccines for her twin 4-year-old sons, Rudy and Gryffin. She spent the weekend making calls to see who would have the vaccines first.

As they stood in the waiting room of the pharmacy Monday, pharmacist Jignesh Gandhi asked if they were ready.

“We’ve been waiting a year and a half,” Countryman said. “We’re ready to go!”

Gandhi told the boys it would feel like a mosquito bite. Within a few minutes, her sons had been vaccinated and were clutching chocolate candy bars Gandhi gave them after the shots.

“I just wanted them to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Countryman said. “I felt it was important for them to get their lives back a little bit.”

Soon it was 4-year-old Liam Grunwaldt’s turn. Since COVID-19 began, Grunwaldt’s family has been trying to protect him because he has kidney disease and pulmonary problems. They’ve tried to avoid eating indoors and large crowds.

“We’ve been waiting for this day,” Christina Grunwaldt said, through tears of relief. Now, if he catches COVID-19, she won’t worry as much that he’ll have to be hospitalized for it, she said.

“We can do more activities, like before 2020,” said Grunwaldt, of Carol Stream, as her two older, vaccinated children sat beside her.

COVID-19 shots for Illinois' youngest residents begin

Becky Trimble drove about two hours from Mequon, Wisconsin, to Rana-Reagan Pharmacy Monday to get a vaccine for her 3-year-old son, Cole.

“Each day that we wait is another day he’s unprotected,” Trimble said. “So if I can get in the car and drive two hours, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Many parents went to Rana-Reagan specifically because they had heard it had the Moderna vaccine Monday. Vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer were authorized Saturday by the CDC.

Though the FDA has said both vaccines are safe and effective, the shots have differences that have some parents angling for one over the other.

The Moderna vaccine for children ages 6 months through 5 years is supposed to be given in two doses, about four weeks apart, and each shot is about one-fourth of an adult dose. The Pfizer vaccine for children ages 6 months through 4 years consists of three doses, given over the course of about 11 weeks. Each dose of the Pfizer vaccine is about one-tenth of an adult dose.

Many parents who want the Moderna vaccine for their kids are attracted to the shorter timeline to full vaccination.

Amanda Mehrbrodt said she spent hours combing through the data for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines before deciding to pursue Moderna for her 4-year-old son, Adam. She drove about an hour from Frankfurt to Rana-Reagan on Monday.

She’s eager for Adam to be fully vaccinated before he goes to school in the fall.

“He doesn’t know anything other than COVID. He was 2 when COVID hit,” Mehrbrodt said. She also has a 21-month-old who she’s hoping will get vaccinated by the Will County health department later this week.

Her younger child still hasn’t met some family members, she said. Mehrbrodt is looking forward to traveling, playdates with cousins and just feeling less worried, once her kids are fully vaccinated.

“We want to get back to living our life,” she said.

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