Update: The Tompkins County Health Department announced that all 1,200 available vaccine slots have been filled for this weekend’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics dedicated to 5-11-year-olds. More are being planned in the near future.

There is a town hall that will be held between 5-6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 8 and can be viewed on YouTube, both via stream at the time and at the same link afterwards.

Original Story:

TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The day many parents have waited for will be here soon, as children aged 5-11 years old have been newly approved to receive two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

The Tompkins County Health Department has announced two vaccine clinics this week, held on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 5-6, at the Shops at Ithaca Mall vaccination site. Both will be specifically aimed at vaccinating as many 5-11 year-olds as time and space safely allows.

The clinics come on the heels of approvals from the FDA and the CDC that the vaccine is safe for children of those ages—previously all vaccines had only been approved for people above 12, and Pfizer’s vaccine is still the only one that has been approved for kids 5-11. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are currently under review.

Exemplifying the health department’s cognizance of the importance of vaccinating the newly eligible youth community, the health department is leaving booster clinics up to local pharmacies and turning its attention to youth clinics, at least for the time being. There are between 5,700-6,000 kids who are now newly eligible to receive the vaccine in Tompkins County, Kruppa said.

“We really want to focus on making appointments available for our 5-11-year-olds and that’s using up the resources that we have available for vaccine clinics,” said Public Health Director Frank Kruppa. “Things are different than they were when we started vaccines. The healthcare system has re-engaged at almost full speed, so we don’t have as many available resources from a staffing perspective. […] And adult vaccines are readily available in our community, I believe every pharmacy in the community you can call and make an appointment.”

The vaccine that will be administered to kids is a lower dose than the vaccine that has been given out so far, but two doses should still be taken 3-4 weeks apart. Second doses will be scheduled through the health department. Kruppa said vaccines for 5-11 year olds will not yet be available at local pharmacies.

There is no COVID-19 vaccine mandate for children attending school—that decision would come from the state level, Kruppa said, not from Tompkins County.

Appointment links for Friday and Saturday, Nov. 5-6, will be distributed to local school districts, TST BOCES, and other community partners who will then be tasked with communicating directly to families with children between 5-11 years old. Beyond that, the health department said they would be contacting school districts and local pediatrician offices for more clinics that can be easier to access, though more will also be held at the Shops at Ithaca Mall site.

“As we’ve done throughout, our first step is to try to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, so that’s why we do the large-scale clinics first,” Kruppa said. “Then once we’re done with those, then we will evaluate if there are additional opportunities for us to make the vaccine available out in the community.”

Tompkins County children will be prioritized in future clinics as they are scheduled, and a consent form will be required for children under the age of 18, with the signature of a parent, guardian or caretaker.

Those without computer or internet access can call 2-1-1 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and they can be registered over the phone.

Kruppa’s message remains largely the same as it has been since the very beginning of the vaccine rollout locally: that receiving the shot is the single best way to fight against the pandemic, even for those who are quite young and less likely to face severe outcomes from the illness.

The challenges that the county encountered with vaccine distribution among adults will likely remain to some extent with the now-eligible 6,000 kids—Tompkins County’s vaccination rates were often the highest or near the highest in the state, but stalled around 60 percent in May and progress has been slow since then, now at around 74 percent.

“I don’t necessarily think it will be different, I think it will be similar challenges,” Kruppa said. “We have some members of our community that have chosen not to be vaccinated. I would imagine if they have children, that would hold true for their children as well. As a parent, you always want to be deliberate about decisions you’re making about your children, so I imagine there are families out there having discussions, and I hope they have those discussions with their healthcare providers.” 

Matt Butler

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