TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—With kids beginning to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, after recent approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the attention has shifted to making the vaccine available to as many children as possible, though officials admit that may be a gradual process over the next several weeks. This was the main topic of the latest COVID-19 update from county officials, held Monday, Nov. 8.

You can watch the entire update on YouTube here. The health department also announced its latest vaccination clinics, for 5-11-year-olds only, are on Nov. 12 (11 a.m. to 7 p.m., register here) and Nov. 13 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m., register here), at the Shops at Ithaca Mall location.

The panel on Monday was hosted by Shannon Alvord, the Tompkins County Health Department’s Public Health Communications Coordinator, and included Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, Senior Community Health Nurse Rachel Buckwalter and local pediatrician Dr. Jeffrey Snedeker, now serving as an infectious disease consultant by the county. Its main point was fielding and answering questions regarding the recent approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids between the ages of 5-11-years-old.

To begin, Kruppa addressed the current COVID-19 situation in Tompkins County. There’s been one death from the illness in the last two or so months, bringing the county death toll to 38 total. After a long period of declining active case numbers, those same numbers have quietly begun to creep back upwards—though hospitalizations are still quite low.

“Our numbers have been trending in the right direction,” Kruppa said. “It’s important to note that those case numbers are going to fluctuate. In the last couple days we’ve seen some bigger days than we’ve seen in a while. […] Really what we want folks to focus on is that severity of illness, making sure that people don’t end up in the hospital. If people do get COVID, we hope they don’t but if they do, that they’re able to recover quickly and get back to their daily lives.”

Kruppa said if all goes according to plan, then 50 percent of the 5-11 population will be vaccinated by the end of November, as the health department believes it will be able to expand vaccination appointments in the coming weeks and boost availability. Children are receiving a dose that is 1/3 of the amount of the adult vaccine, Snedeker said. While there still will be breakthrough cases, Snedeker reassured that the vaccine has been shown to be effective at preventing serious symptoms for the now-common Delta variant and the original COVID-19 virus in the vast majority of cases.

As has been previously said, there is still not a requirement for students to receive the vaccine in order to attend school in-person, a requirement that would have to be enacted by the New York State Department of Health.

“It’s not required now, and I don’t imagine that during this first wave of vaccinations it will be,” Kruppa said. “[They’re] likely wanting to wait until full approval goes into place, and certainly would want to have more than one brand of vaccine available for that age group. I think we’re still a bit off before that is considered.”

Officials then fielded questions from parents who are apprehensive about their child receiving the vaccine, one from the perspective that kids “aren’t getting sick” from the virus.

“It is true that children are less likely to become significantly ill from COVID than adults,” Snedeker said. “It is not true that children aren’t becoming ill and getting hospitalized. Somewhere in the vicinity of 2 million kids in this 5-12 age range have gotten COVID so far. Of those, 94 have been reported to have died and over 8,000 have been hospitalized, and about a third of the hospitalized kids have required ICU care. This is not a benign illness.”

Snedeker said parents who believe they can protect their child from ever contracting COVID are acting futilely.

“It is inevitable that every child is going to get COVID at some point, it’s just a matter of when,” Snedeker said. “We hope that it’s later, and we hope that everybody gets vaccinated before they get COVID so they have the best chance of coming through without complications or without bad things happening to them or their families.”

Kruppa confirmed that there will be less missed school time from quarantining as a result of confirmed exposures to COVID-19 if children are vaccinated, though this is something that TCHD has already prioritized this school year in accordance with CDC guidance. He said that fully vaccinated kids won’t have to quarantine even if they are identified as a close contact of a positive case in a school setting, saying this provides an “absolute benefit” to parents and students from an academic perspective.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com