With the Centers for Disease Control authorization of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11, local officials are ramping up their efforts to make it available.

“Our Health Department staff members have been preparing for this approval and have made clinical and operational adjustments to account for this unique population,” said Chester County Commissioners’ Chair Marian Moskowitz. “We strongly believe vaccinations, along with other safety measures, represent the fastest way out of the pandemic. The county has the resources to serve any family who wants the protection and peace of mind the vaccine will bring.”

Chester County Health Department Director Jeanne Franklin spoke about the safety of the vaccine, which is one-third the strength of the dosage intended for those age 12 and older. It is administered with two shots 21 days apart.

“It has gone through the same rigorous process as any vaccine that receives FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CDC approval,” she said. “The main study of this vaccine found that the lower-dose version is nearly 91 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in this age group.”

The Montgomery County Office of Public Health is scheduling vaccination appointments for children, similar to the system for those 12 and up. The county is operating four vaccination clinics in Pottstown, Norristown, King of Prussia, and Willow Grove. Vaccination appointments can be made online at www.montcopa.org/COVID-19vaccine, or by calling (833) 875-3967 Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Appointments are available to children who live in or attend school in Montgomery County. There is no charge for the shots, but appointments are required.  Minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian or an authorized substitute for the parent or guardian.

However, opinions on the subject of whether young children should be vaccinated are mixed.

Lindsay Lindstrom, who ran for a seat on the Upper Moreland School Board this year, believes making the vaccine available to children is a positive step. She and her husband are the parents of a first-grader.

“I’m really glad they’re available for those who want it who want to for their child,” she said, “I think availability is just the first step. I think the second step is needing it to be accessible for anybody who wants it. I just want to make sure it’s available for anybody who wants it.”

But Lindstrom stopped short of saying the vaccine should be mandatory for children.

Kids and their parents waiting at a recent COVID vaccination clinic in Chester County.

“I’m glad it’s available,” she said, “I’m glad it’s successful, but I’m not in favor of mandating it. But I’m happy it’s accessible and available to families who would like for their children.”

Lindstrom pointed out that parents’ vaccination decisions regarding their children are based on individual circumstances.

“What I’ve heard from different parents about mandating vaccines is the same as with any other vaccine,” she said. “Is the child healthy enough for it? Is (the vaccine) around long enough? Is it right for my child? Is it in accordance with my personal philosophical and religious beliefs?”

Lindstrom, who is vaccinated, declined to say if her daughter, who is six, is or will be.

Gina Leasher resides in Norristown and has a daughter in the fifth grade. She appreciates why some parents want the vaccine for their children, but she does not.

“For the parents who want it for their children, great. I don’t want it for mine. At all, ever,” said Leasher. “I don’t feel there has been remotely enough research on this, they rushed it. Children don’t get it as adults do. Not to mention, we’ve already had it. So, for a family like us, with natural immunity, the idea of a vaccine is ridiculous.”

A girl receives a COVID vaccination at the Chester County vaccine event.

Norristown resident Lisa Licwinko-Engleman ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Norristown Area School District board. She isn’t directly impacted by the new vaccine; the two youngest of her seven children are in high school. But, as a parent, she was she understands the differing views on the issue.

“I am one of those parents that can see both sides of the coin. I can understand that some parents want their child to be first in line to get the vaccine and others are reluctant to do so.”

Licwinko-Engelman says she appreciates the concerns of vaccine-wary parents.

“I know some parents who are reluctant don’t feel it’s been studied long enough,” she said. “They may be afraid of side effects so, I understand where those parents are coming from as well.”

Meanwhile, Montgomery County announced virtual townhalls on children’s COVID shots for parents: Tuesday, November 16 at 7:30 p.m. (in Spanish) Register at www.montcopa.org/parents; and Wednesday, November 17 at 7 p.m.

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