The Shelby County Health Department is offering COVID-19 vaccinations to children six months and older beginning Friday, in line with federal recommendations for the shots which have received additional support from local medical experts in Memphis.
“Many families have been very eager to vaccinate their younger children,” Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department, said in a statement. “Some have delayed family visits, vacation trips and summer camp because their youngest cannot yet be protected by vaccines.
“As a parent,” Taylor continued, “I was greatly relieved when my children were able to be vaccinated and have all the protection against the most severe impacts of the virus that the vaccines provide.”
Shots are available for free and without an appointment at two health department locations, 814 Jefferson Ave. in Suite 207 and 1826 Sycamore View Rd., on Mondays through Fridays between 8 am and 4:30 pm
Related:Memphis kids 6 months and older can get COVID-19 shots. Here’s why doctors say they should
Previous coverage:Tennessee House GOP press Gov. Read to block state distribution of COVID vaccine for youngest kids
In addition to Taylor, medical experts at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, Baptist Memorial Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital agree that vaccines for young children who are at least six months old and younger than five years are safe and effective.
Shots continue despite calls from House GOP leaders
The dissemination of the shots from the Shelby County Health Department, which said Wednesday it would wait to vaccinate children until receiving proper protocol from the state health department, eclipses calls this week from Tennessee House Republican leaders who called on Gov. Bill Lee to block the Tennessee Department of Health from “distributing, promoting or recommending” the shots for the recently approved, youngest age group.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby signed the letter, written by Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville.
In Memphis Thursday for a ceremonial signing of a new law that mandates people convicted of several violent crimes serve all of their sentences, Sexton doubled down on the requests of the letter.
Neither Lee nor the state health department have responded, he said.
“I was very sad when I saw that that’s immediately where we were going,” Dr. Nick Hysmith, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Le Bonheur, said Wednesday in response to the letter. “…You should not have a child die of COVID because they’re not vaccinated.”
The rhetoric from Sexton mimics that of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, leader of the lone state that didn’t order any shots for young kids. DeSantis said parents could choose to get the shots but should take children to doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
The move caused supply concerns for groups without direct supply agreements for the shots with the federal government. National pharmacy chain CVS Health, for instance, can order supply at the federal level.
Sexton said Thursday Tennessee “needs to get out of the distribution process” for the COVID-19 vaccine. The speaker did not acknowledge a reporter’s question seeking data to support claims disputing the safety of the vaccine.
Several families in Memphis have gotten the free vaccines from the health department.
“I think there’s more pharmacies in this state and in this community, than there is a health department,” Sexton said, in response to questions of vaccination access for these families, if Lee were to block the shots. “I think there are more physicians in this area than there are health departments.”
Memphis experts support COVID-19 vaccines for young kids
The Shelby County Health Department will have both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for children older than six months.
From last week:As COVID-19 wanes, Memphis hospitals still see staffing shortages
Previously:Memphis area recovers all jobs lost in COVID-19 pandemic, hits record-high employment
The Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, for children younger than five, requires three doses: Two doses three weeks apart, and a third dose at least two months after the second dose.
The Moderna vaccine, for children five and younger, requires two doses four weeks apart.
The vaccines are also available at other doctor offices and pharmacies.
Diego Hijano, a faculty member in the department of infectious diseases at St. Jude, wrote in an emailed response about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines for young children and the effectiveness of the vaccine at preventing severe disease, death and multisystem inflammatory syndrome , known as MIS-C.
“These vaccines are safe and what we have seen is no different to what we see with other pediatric vaccines,” Hijano said via email in prepared responses. “The most common side effects are local, mild and resolve within 1-2 days.”
Those effects could be pain or redness where the child gets the shot, and children could become cranky, sleepy or less hungry, he said. Fever, a side effect of vaccine in adults, is not commonly seen in children.
“It is extremely unlikely that any vaccination, including COVID-19 vaccination, could cause long-term health problems,” Hijano said.
Laura Testino covers education and children’s issues for the Commercial Appeal. Reach her from her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-512-3763. Find her de ella on Twitter: @LDTestino