Children 12 years and older are eligible and encouraged to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine by the CDC, even though fewer children than adults are infected.
However, the vaccine is not always easily accessible for children in this age group.
While some local stores offer the vaccine in Warren County, most pediatrician offices currently do not. To make the vaccine more accessible to young patients, pediatricians in Mississippi are encouraged to enroll in the American Association of Pediatrics’ COVID-19 Vaccination Community Program. This would allow doctors to administer the vaccine to their adolescent patients.
Merit Health Medical Group Pediatrics houses the majority of the county’s pediatricians. They do not currently offer the COVID-19 vaccine to their patients, but are in the process of applying for it. dr. Geri Weiland said the delay is not because they are hesitant to offer it, but rather that there are some hurdles to overcome first.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of people willing to do it,” Weiland said. “I think it takes a while in the 12 to 18 category to get pediatricians where they can do it.”
When the COVID-19 vaccine first became available to children as young as 12, Weiland said she knew of no pediatric practices that could meet the refrigeration requirements for the large volume of vaccine shipments. She said the Mississippi State Department of Health has begun to make it easier and easier for offices to meet requirements by now finding ways to split shipments into smaller quantities.
Now that the requirements have been adjusted, Weiland said her office might finally consider offering it.
“I couldn’t think about it before because I didn’t have a place to put the vaccine,” Weiland said.
While this requirement has been relaxed, it is still not an easy process for pediatricians to house the vaccines for their patients. This vaccine must be part of a separate application process, although all Merit Health Medical Group physicians are part of the Vaccines for Children program. Weiland said the application process can be time-consuming and it can be difficult to find the time to do it.
“I don’t know about the pediatricians across the state, but I know the four of us in this office. It’s almost like everyone who couldn’t be seen last year is being seen now,” Weiland said. “It’s very busy this summer.”
Weiland said she felt it was very important to offer the vaccine as soon as it became available to her, and she is now in the middle of the application process. Once it is ready, she will start offering it to all of her patients in the age range 12 to 18 years.
“We release vaccines,” Weiland said. “We believe in vaccines. I’ve been in medicine for 40 years. I’ve seen vaccines work. We’ve prevented things you’ve never heard of. It’s not that we don’t believe in it or that we fear the COVID-19 vaccine.”
She said the doctors in her office have still advocated for the vaccine to their patients, but they’ve been a little slow to provide it themselves.
Warren County has seen a steady decline in COVID-19 cases in recent months. In the latest report of June 28, there was only one newly reported case. Weiland says this is due to the rising vaccination rate. In Warren County, 35.6 percent of residents are fully vaccinated — just below the state total of 35.8 percent.
“I haven’t even looked at the numbers lately because the last time I looked they were really good,” Weiland said. “Vaccines work. That’s just the truth.”
The Mississippi State Department of Health has credited the new Delta strain of COVID-19 for the majority of new cases found among unvaccinated people. Warren County has yet to see this new strand of the virus among new cases.
“Vaccinations are safe, easy to get and highly effective,” according to the Mississippi State Department of Health. “Even if you’ve had COVID-19, it can help ensure long-term immunity against COVID-19 and its variants.”
The MSDH is urging people to continue vaccinating, as young people may be putting their elderly relatives at risk for the new strain. Pediatricians can help increase vaccination rates in Warren County by visiting this website to enroll in the COVID-19 vaccination program.
“We’re Coming Out of the Hole” [of the pandemic] by having vaccines,” Weiland said.