As Omicron Variant Reaches California, Contra Costa Parents Relieved About Pfizer Vaccine’s Approval for Children


Photo courtesy of Self Magazine via Wikimedia Commons. CC BY 2.0.

Christina Carasis, Staff

While much of the world experiences a renewed sense of anxiety over the newest COVID-19 variant known as Omicron (pronounced “Oh-me-kron”), many local parents are breathing their first sigh of relief as young children in overwhelming numbers have received the vaccine.

After months of waiting and anticipation, Pfizer-BioNTech gained emergency use approval for its pediatric dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in early November, allowing children ages 5-11 to receive a two-dose series. According to a briefing by Jeff Zeints, the White House’s coronavirus coordinator, more than 2.6 million children in the U.S. already received their first dose in the first two weeks following its approval.

Spirits were still high in late November at the Nick Rodriguez Community Center in Antioch, as Contra Costa families lined up to get their children vaccinated at the county-run clinic.

“I was assigned this location just as the pediatric dose was approved and I’ve been so surprised by the turn out,” said Cinthia Sanchez, a registered Contra Costa County nurse who was administering vaccines at the clinic.

“I’m truly amazed. In the first week [after approval] parents were even showing up early or pulling their kids out of school for a day to make time to get it right away.”

Sanchez added, “Some parents have of course had concerns and questions for us, but even the kids themselves have been so brave and happy to get it. Even the ones who are scared or nervous about the needle are willing to do it and excited to finally get the vaccine.”

Local parents echoed the sentiment. Melissa Van Ruiten, a Brentwood photographer and parent of three children, told The Inquirer she was “highly relieved” about the vaccine approval for kids under 12.

Van Ruiten said her oldest child, a teenager, was able to get vaccinated before the summer holidays. But her two youngest, who have been attending school in person this year, had to wait until now to receive the vaccine.

“I’m so happy the last two members of my family were able to begin the process,” Van Ruiten said. “While I know that breakthrough cases are possible, it still lets us breathe a little easier as we go about our daily lives.”

Asked how her children felt about it, she added, “My kids love knowing that they are doing their part in protecting others, both among their friends and their community-at-large.”

Some other parents shared mixed emotions of joy and concern. One of them, Oakley resident Kathryn Webb, a mother of three and local birth-worker, said, “I’m very happy for my friends with younger children that are high-risk or immunocompromised.”

Nonetheless, “While I understand the benefits of all children getting the vaccine for the wellbeing of the community, I’m still a little hesitant,” she said. “It’s definitely sparked some complicated feelings.”

Contra Costa County has had one of the highest turnouts of children getting vaccinated in California. The Mercury News reported on Nov. 21 that 21.5 percent of Contra Costa youth ages 5-11 had already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine– nearly double the California average of around 11 percent.

While health officials don’t yet know how much protection the vaccines will have against the Omicron variant, experts agree that getting vaccinated remains the best line of defense against contracting COVID-19. And high levels of vaccination in a community can prevent new variants from forming, according to a recent media release from Contra Costa Health Services

All children above the age of 5 can be vaccinated at any of the county-run vaccine clinics, school site clinics, or at their own pediatrician’s office. For more information about the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine or how to make an appointment, parents can contact their child’s medical provider or visit the Contra Costa Health Services vaccine information page.