By Lisa Phu

Kids as young as 6 months old were able to get a COVID-19 vaccine from at least one vaccine clinic in Alaska on Monday, just two days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on the vaccine. Support service company Fairweather LLC is holding vaccine clinics in two different locations in Anchorage every day for the rest of the month, offering both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for kids under age 5.

Kelsey Pistotnik took her 3-year-old daughter Vivienne to get the Moderna vaccine at the Fairweather clinic in Tikahtnu Commons late afternoon on Monday. The Anchorage mom, who’s also part of Alaska COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, said she felt a wave of relief as the vaccine was administered.)

“I would make this decision 10 times over. I am just so relieved to finally have that protection for the most vulnerable in my family,” Pistotnik said.

Kelsey Pistotnik’s 3-year-old daughter Vivienne Pistotnik gets a COVID-19 vaccine on June 20, 2022, in Anchorage. Photo provided to by Kelsey Pistotnik

For other providers around the state, access to the vaccine may take a little longer, according to Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, staff physician at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“It will take several days for all the vaccine providers who preordered vaccine to receive it, but parents can check with their pediatrician or local pharmacy to see if they will be offering the vaccine and to make an appointment,” Rabinowitz said.

For public health centers, COVID-19 vaccines for the youngest age group will be available at some but not all, so it’s also wise to check in with your local public health center for more information.

All children, including children who have already had COVID-19, should get vaccinated, according to the CDC. Children under age 5 can be vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines to help protect them from COVID-19. Each is administered with its own timeline. DHSS is not recommending one over the other. 

Pfizer-BioNTech is a three-dose series with three weeks between dose 1 and 2, and two months between dose 2 and 3. It’ll take 13 weeks for a kid to complete their primary series.

Moderna is a two-dose series with four weeks between Dose 1 and 2, which means it’ll take six weeks for a kid to complete their primary series. 

The clinical trials and studies have shown the benefits of getting vaccinated outweigh the risks, which is why the decisions to authorize these vaccines were unanimous from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CDC, said Rabinowitz.

“We’re very encouraged that the vaccines are safe and effective,” she said. “We recommend that Alaska parents talk to their health care provider or pharmacist if they have questions or concerns.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services is also hosting a public webinar for parents to learn more about the pediatric vaccines on Tuesday, June 28, from 7 to 8 p.m. The webinar link will be available to the public prior to the event.

How COVID has impacted children in Alaska

Children under 10 years old account for 2% of the total hospitalizations from COVID-19 among Alaska residents. DHSS does not split that data to account for children under 5. There have been two deaths in Alaska in children under 10 years old from COVID-19. Nationally, children ages 0 to 4 account for around 3.3% of total cases and .1% of total deaths. That’s according to CDC’s COVID data tracker.

“Even with these low percentages of total deaths, it should be noted that COVID-19 is the fourth-leading cause of death in children under 1 year old, and fifth-leading cause in those 1 to 4 years old,” Rabinowitz said, citing national data. “Over half of the children who were hospitalized had no underlying condition.”

In addition, a reported 23 children have been hospitalized with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, Rabinowitz said. “It’s a severe inflammatory condition that kids, especially in that age group, will get after a COVID infection,” she said. “Most of those kids get pretty ill and end up in the ICU.”

Possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccine for babies and toddlers

Rabinowitz said possible side effects of the vaccine are similar to the 5-11 age group.

“Some fatigue and headache were the most common in 2- to 5-year-olds. You can see some irritability and sleepiness, and then the one thing that’s slightly higher in this age group is that fevers were a bit more common,” she said.

Fevers could last up to a couple of days and “treated easily with over-the-counter fever medications,” Rabinowitz said.

Mom Kelsey Pistotnik said her daughter Vivienne hasn’t experienced any side effects so far.

“She seemed just like her normal 3-year-old self, yesterday and today.”