How One Medical Center Leads the Way in Chicago for COVID Vaccines for Children

When the paramedic put on rubber gloves and prepared the syringe, 5-year-old Victoria Macias in a pink Minnie Mouse mask and white blouse turned away and closed her eyes.

“It won’t hurt, okay? I will hold your hand, I will hold your hand, “said her 8-year-old older sister, Alondra.” Deep breath, deep breath. “

Paramedic Rachel Blankas poked Victoria’s left arm for about a second. Victoria opened her eyes. At the same time, the Macias sisters were among the first children aged 5 to 11 to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the largest city in the Midwest.

Their mom, Maria Lopez, picked them up from school last Thursday to stop by at a mass immunization site in southwest Chicago. “They have all the vaccines available, so why not this one?” said 43-year-old Lopez, a real estate broker.

Esperanza Health Centers, the nonprofit healthcare provider that operates the site, has been the leading provider of pediatric COVID vaccine in Chicago, according to the city’s Department of Public Health, having completed nearly 10,000 immunizations for children ages 12-17. Now that the FDA has approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations for children ages 5-11, the organization’s efforts can serve as lessons for other places in the U.S. struggled to vaccinate children

“People in the community trust us,” said Veronica Flores, COVID Response Manager for Esperanza, which has five medical clinics that accept patients regardless of insurance or immigration status. “When the pandemic started, we were among the first to test.”

At one point, she noted, Esperanza performed more than half of all COVID tests conducted in the city. The number of patients at this federal medical center, which is about 90% of Hispanics, has doubled since COVID.

Everyone who works with patients at Esperanza speaks two languages. Immunization site It has extended hours and is open five days a week, including for people without an appointment. The clinic will even pay for Uber travel for patients to get vaccinated.

If a parent or guardian has questions or concerns about a childhood vaccine, Esperanza puts them in touch with one of their doctors.

Doctor Marc Mignet, director of pediatric medicine, tries to reassure patients by telling them that the injection, which is given at a lower dose than for adolescents and adults, was safe and effective for children from 5 to 11 years old. Relatively mild side effects can include pain at the injection site, headaches, and fatigue, which can last for a day or two. In addition, he reminds them that children are at risk of contracting the virus.

“About 2 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 have been diagnosed with COVID, and there have been about 170 deaths,” Minier said. “It’s still too much. If we have anything that can help prevent the death or any illness of children from COVID, we must do it. “

Cynthia Galvan, a paramedic from Esperanza who lives nearby, brought her 10-year-old son Andres for a shot on Thursday. She hopes this will provide her family with a better Thanksgiving than last year, when several of her relatives fell ill with COVID-19.

“Every home has already been vaccinated, except for him,” said 34-year-old Cynthia. “There are 10 of us.”

Vaccination rate in Chicago 58.2% for children from 12 to 17 years old is higher than national average about 50%, mostly due to community health centers such as Esperanza, said City Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwadi… Not only are they familiar with the local languages ​​and culture, but they are also a place where the whole family can get vaccinated, starting with the grandparents last winter.

“We know that the most important predictor of whether a child will receive the vaccine is the vaccination of the parent or guardian,” Arvadi said.

She still worries about the roughly 750,000 residents of the city who are deprived of immunity from COVID. Young black Chicagoans are lagging behind other groups in getting vaccinated, and she is concerned that outbreaks may occur among these unvaccinated networks this winter.

“Either way, your immune system is likely to learn the lesson of COVID, and probably in the next few months,” Arwadi said. “So either it’s a safer way to get vaccinated or the risk of getting infected.”

The city is working to increase vaccinations by offering $ 100 gift cards, giving free vaccinations at home to anyone who wants to, and giving all schoolchildren a day off this Friday for immunizations.

Esperanza Health Centers sent text messages to the families of approximately 8,000 patients, ages 5 to 11, last week to let their parents know the vaccine is available. The organization began distributing vaccinations to young children on Wednesday morning, just hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. gave the final go… After three weeks, the second dose will begin.

“I hate injections,” Benicio Decker, 7, said while playing a game on his iPad in the clinic’s waiting room on Thursday. “The only time I like shots is when we get ice cream after.”

But a second grader from Chicago said he was willing to endure a little discomfort, “because I want to protect my family, myself, my friends, my teacher.”

On an autumn fall afternoon, families with young children flocked back and forth to a 23,000-square-foot former gym with open ventilation, pendant fluorescent lights, and a blue-speckled rubber floor. While Disney songs were played over the loudspeakers, children stopped to take pictures against the backdrop of astronaut-style photography backdrops covered in balloons set up by the medical center.

“They do a great job of providing information where there are people,” said Benicio’s mom, 39-year-old Esme De Maria. “They have flyers in restaurants, self-service laundries, grocery stores. They don’t expect people to come to them. “

Esperanza has also run vaccination clinics in local schools and parks.

De Maria said she was not on waiting lists like elsewhere in the city. She even went to the health center to run vaccine workshops for her local community colleagues.

According to De Maria, Esperanza is a trusted healthcare facility in the predominantly Hispanic area of ​​the city. The name of the medical center means “hope” in Spanish. In Chicago and nationwideHispanics are less likely than whites and Asians to receive coronavirus immunizations, although the gap is narrowing.

“People of color have historically had every right to fear vaccinations,” De Maria said, noting that many women in her ancestral home in Puerto Rico were forced into life. sterilized in the 20th century… “It’s in our DNA to be skeptical.”

But she said she hoped everyone would think about vaccinations for the good of the community. “It’s not just for him,” she said, pointing at Benicio.

At the vaccination station, Blancas, a paramedic, told Benicio that the injection would feel like a mosquito bite. “You are really brave. “You’ll earn this ice cream,” his mom said.

As Blancas stuck the needle in Benicio’s hand, the boy, holding the Batman teddy bear tightly to him, said “Ouch” quietly. Then he said that he had just felt a slight infringement.

“You are officially vaccinated,” his mother told him as he sat and played with her phone in the surveillance area for 15 minutes to make sure he did not have dangerous allergic reactions. “He will be one of the first children in his school to be vaccinated. He’s a little superhero. “

Kaiser Health News is the national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

This story first appeared in Kaiser Health News

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