Arya Martinez made it clear, squirming on her mom’s lap, that she did not like the needle.
Arya, 7, covered her eyes when her 10-year-old brother, Kirav, received his jab of the child-sized dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday at a South Salt Lake clinic — one of the first locations in Utah where children ages 5 to 11 could receive it.
When it was her turn, Arya was hesitant, even though nurse Tenzin Drongsar made her giggle when she wiggled the girl’s arm. Arya’s mom, Dr. Amrapali Shah, reassured her daughter. “You’re going to laugh afterward, because it’s not going to be that big a deal,” Shah said.
In the moment, it was a big deal, and Shah and Drongsar used several tactics to calm Arya down. Lollipops were produced. Ice cream was mentioned. Finally, Arya bravely pulled her sleeve up to expose her bicep, and let out a small squeal when the needle went in.
Just as quickly, Drongsar declared, cheerily, “And, done!”
The South Main Public Health Center saw a steady stream of young children coming to get vaccinated Wednesday, said Gabe Moreno, spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department, which operates the center.
Across Utah, health care providers began opening COVID-19 vaccine appointments to children ages 5 to 11 after federal officials on Tuesday issued a green light for the kid-size Pfizer shot.
About 50,000 Pfizer doses arrived in Utah on Tuesday, according to Nate Checketts, director of the Utah Department of Health. Another bunch should arrive by Thursday, and a third shipment is expected by Friday or Monday, amounting to some 109,000 total doses in Utah within the first week of availability.
Demand is already high, Checketts said. Parents began calling after federal approval Tuesday asking if they could get shots within the hour. “There are families that are ready to go,” he said.
The kid-size doses that arrived in Utah on Tuesday — in orange-topped vials, to distinguish them from the purple lids on the adult-strength vaccine — were quickly distributed, with about two-thirds going to local health districts. The rest went to health care systems, pharmacies and to individual pediatricians and family practitioners, Checketts said.
Dr. Michelle Hofmann, UDOH’s deputy director, said local health departments have larger clinics that parents can take their children to more quickly.
But she noted that getting doses to pediatricians “helps those parents who feel like they need a bit more support from their regular doctors before deciding whether to vaccinate their child.”
For Shah — a pulmonary and critical care physician at Salt Lake City’s LDS Hospital who has treated COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit — getting her younger children the vaccine means “peace of mind,” she said.
Shah got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine back in December, when it was first introduced. “I feel like I’ve been waiting a long time” for her children to receive theirs, she said.
“It didn’t really hurt,” Kirav said after the fact. “If anything, the flu shot was worse.”
A few minutes after it was over, Arya had bounced back. “I’m great,” she said, as she talked about the things she can do as a vaccinated person: Gymnastics, swimming and visiting Shah’s parents in Oklahoma.
Shah said she has had conversations with her children — Arya and Kirav have a 12-year-old older sibling — about the vaccine. “They’re scared of needles, but they understand how important it is,” Shah said. “They see it as a way to get back to normal life.”
Salt Lake County vaccines
The Salt Lake County Health Department on Wednesday began offering free COVID-19 vaccines at half a dozen sites for children in that age group. Appointments are needed this week, which can be made online at vaccinate.utah.gov or by calling 385-468-7468.
Starting Monday, children 5-11 can receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine without an appointment at Salt Lake County sites. Officials noted that walk-ins may have to wait longer than those with appointments.
A parent or guardian must accompany children who are getting vaccinated.
Vaccinations are available at the following Salt Lake County locations:
• Ellis R. Shipp Public Health Center (4535 S, 5600 West, West Valley City) — Monday-Friday, 8 a.m-8 p.m.
• South Main Public Health Center (3690 S. State Street, South Salt Lake) — Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
• South Redwood Public Health Center (7971 S. 1825 West, West Jordan) — Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. from Nov. 13 through Dec. 18.
• Southeast Public Health Center (9340 S. 700 East, Sandy) — Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
• Salt Lake Public Health Center (610 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City) — Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
• Salt Lake County Government Center (2001 S. State Street, Salt Lake City) — Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. from Nov. 13 through Dec. 18.
Parents of Utah children 5-11 can also begin coordinating vaccine appointments with pediatricians and family doctors.
The supply will vary by location, but Utah health officials said wider child vaccine availability is expected Monday.
“Doctors, and especially pediatricians, will play a critical role in vaccinating this population,” Hofmann, who is also a pediatrician, said in a statement. “We expect doctors will proactively reach out to their patients with the information they need to make the decision to vaccinate their children.”
Some county and regional health departments were more ready to distribute the kid-size doses than others, according to Jill Parker, executive director of the Utah Association of Local Health Departments, which represents all 13 local health districts in the state. That is in part because Parker said the local districts were not expecting final federal approval, which came late Tuesday, until Wednesday or Thursday.
“They’re working to speed that up,” Parker said.
The Summit County Health Department announced early Wednesday that it had sent registration links to all residents who had preregistered for vaccinations for children ages 5-11. Appointments opened to the general public Wednesday afternoon.
Registration is required in Summit County, and as of Wednesday, walk-ins are not accepted. You can register online at summitcountyhealth.org.
The Utah County Health Department will start giving Pfizer vaccines to the 5-11 group Friday in Provo and American Fork — but all available appointment slots are full through November, according to the department’s website. The department is “looking at” more events, depending on whether supplies of the vaccine are available, said Aislynn Tolman-Hill, the department’s spokeswoman.
The Weber-Morgan Health Department is now scheduling appointments, starting Monday at three junior high schools in the Ogden School District, and starting Tuesday at eight elementary schools in the Weber School District.
The Tooele County Health Department announced it will begin vaccinating children ages 5-11 on Thursday. For more information, go to tooelehealth.org.
Parents in Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties starting Wednesday were advised to preregister their children before walking in to Bear River Health Department clinics in Logan, Tremonton and Brigham City for doses. Appointments are not necessary.
The Southeast Utah Health Department on Wednesday opened appointment scheduling for children 5-11. The appointments begin Monday, and can be scheduled for their offices in Moab, Price and Castle Dale. For more information, go to seuhealth.com.
UDOH also is working with Native American communities in the state to distribute kid-size doses this week and early next week, said Melissa Zito, the Indian health liaison and director of the Office of American Indian and Alaskan Native Health Affairs for UDOH.
Native American adults have received COVID-19 vaccines at levels comparable to Utah’s population as a whole — 74% of Native Americans have received at least one dose, and 66.5% are fully vaccinated, Zito said.
“We expect similar numbers of vaccinations among American Indian children in Utah,” Zito said.
Local health departments will be less reliant on high-volume vaccination sites such as the Salt Palace Convention Center to administer shots to children because UDOH is better able to distribute doses to individual care providers right now, Checketts said.
Earlier this year, vaccines were in short supply for eligible adults, which prompted the need for the larger, centralized sites so that doses could be administered more quickly.
A complete list of Utah vaccine providers is available on the state’s coronavirus web page. The state Health Department advised parents to check the web page often, or call their child’s doctor’s office, pharmacy or their local health department for more detailed information.