EagleHerald Staff Writer

MARINETTE—For some, the Food and Drug Administration’s approval late last month of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine for kids ages 5 to 11 promises to change life significantly.

Aurora Health Center triage nurse Julia Tomaszewski, whose three kids got their first dose of the COVID vaccine Thursday, said her kids have had to quarantine three times because of close contact incidents and have had more COVID tests this fall than all of last year. Just this past Monday, Tomaszewski got a phone call from her kids’ school, Crivitz Elementary, asking that one of her children study from home because of a close contact incident.

“It seems like it’s always one or the other of the kids that is being sent home,” she said.

Tomaszewski said she was “really excited” when the FDA approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for this age group late last month. Once her kids are fully vaccinated, she said, they will have more normalcy and ability to spend time with friends. Vaccinated students at Crivitz Elementary School, moreover, do not need to quarantine when they’ve had a close contact incident unless they show COVID symptoms. This policy is the same in the Marinette School District.

Lower demand than expected

The demand for these vaccines in Marinette, however, has been lower than what some clinics had originally expected. Both Bellin Health Marinette and the Marinette County Health Department reported lower demand than what had been anticipated.

Clinic hours that coincide with a normal work day may be contributing to lower demand. In an October poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on analyzing national health issues, 51% of parents who responded said they were concerned about missing work to get their child vaccinated.

Ostrenga said Bellin Health Marinette’s Saturday clinic was “very well attended” compared to the weekday clinic, possibly because parents and caregivers were more available to bring their kids to the clinic on the weekend.

In addition to occasional Saturday clinics, Bellin Health Marinette Clinic Team Leader Suzanne Ostrenga said Bellin Health is hoping to offer more evening clinic hours so parents and caregivers can make appointments after work. Saturday and evening clinics will be scheduled if Bellin Health Marinette sees demand or gets requests from patients. Bellin Health Marinette will likely open more Saturday and evening options in December. Dates for two December evening clinics, with vaccinations available from 5 to 7 p.m., will be determined by the end of the week. Bellin Health said it is continuing to learn what times work best for families with children in this age group.

Ostrenga said Bellin Health is also expanding avenues for getting the vaccine to increase convenience. She said, for example, that Bellin Health began offering as of Tuesday the option for kids to get vaccinated when they are visiting for other appointments.

Similarly, the Aurora Health Center in Marinette is also offering the vaccines for kids ages 5 to 11 when they come in for checkups, according to Dr. Donald Beno, a pediatrician with Aurora Children’s Health.

Concern about the vaccine itself could also be a factor that is causing lower demand.

In the Kaiser Family Foundation poll, about 27% of parents responded that they were eager to have their child vaccinated once a vaccine was approved for the 5 to 11 age group while another third said they would wait to see how the vaccine would work. About 30% had no interest in having their child vaccinated. The poll found that parents’ main concerns regarding the vaccine were about unknown long-term effects on their children’s health.

Dr. Beno said that, while some parents may be concerned about long term effects, “it’s important to remember that the research done on COVID vaccines is the same research done on any other kind of vaccine that kids have gotten in the past.”

He said he has daily conversations with parents about the safety of the vaccine for this age group and stressed that vaccination is the “safest way that we have to prevent this illness from spreading.”

Dr. Beno pointed to organizations and agencies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as reliable resources for information about the vaccine for this age group.

Tomaszewski also said she fields many phone calls during her work from parents and caregivers asking if the vaccine is safe for their children.

She said she tells people that they need to talk with their provider to assess risks that may be particular to the individual but also emphasizes that, overall, vaccination helps protect kids and allows them to stay in school.

Tomaszewski added that, as a parent, she did extensive research before deciding to get her kids vaccinated. “After doing the research, I felt that the benefits really outweigh the risks,” she said.

The lower demand seems to be relatively local. Ostrenga said the Bellin Health vaccine clinic in Green Bay is experiencing robust demand. A Prevea Health spokesperson said these vaccines at Prevea Health’s clinics in Oconto Falls and Green Bay are also in high demand. The clinic in Oconto Falls only offers appointments one day a week from 2 to 6 p.m. The limited availability may contribute to the demand at that location.

Vaccine supply

As of now, it appears that the supply of COVID vaccines for this age group is stable.

Bellin Health Marinette had to reduce its clinic from five days to just one day last week because of concerns about supply. Ostrenga said, however, that she received Monday confirmation about the delivery of more doses, following which the clinic was able to open back up to five days a week. It seems that the supply for Bellin Health Marinette will be coming regularly for now.

According to Aurora Health Care, the network has not experienced any supply issues thus far. Prevea Health also currently has a good supply of the vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 at this time and does not anticipate supply issues in the future, according to a Prevea Health spokesperson.

Locations offering the vaccine

Several locations are vaccinating kids of the 5 to 11 age group in the local area.

Bellin Health Marinette began vaccinating kids Nov. 5 and has, as of Tuesday, vaccinated over 100 kids ages 5 to 11 in Marinette so far.

Bellin Health Marinette is currently offering appointments Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. As mentioned previously, Bellin Health may open additional evening and Saturday clinic hours and will likely do so in December. Community members can call the clinic at 1-715-735-5225 or the Bellin Health COVID hotline at 1-920-445-7313 to make an appointment. Alternatively, individuals can schedule an appointment through their MyBellinHealth account.

The Aurora Health Center on Old Peshtigo Road is offering vaccines for this age group Monday through Friday. It is also currently offering evening and weekend appointments. Advocate Aurora Health has delivered over 2,000 vaccines to children in this age group across Wisconsin and Illinois, according to Dr. Beno.

Aurora Health Center vaccine appointments for this age group can be made in the LiveWell app or by calling 1-866-443-2584. Parents and caregivers who are scheduling an appointment for someone under 18 through the LiveWell app have to connect their account to their child’s via proxy access.

Marinette County Public Health will also be holding a COVID vaccine clinic for kids ages 5 to 11 Nov. 22 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the health department at 2500 Hall Avenue. Appointments for the clinic are required and can be made by calling 1-715-732-7670. Marinette County Public Health Officer Molly Bonjean said COVID vaccine appointments for all other age groups are available at Marinette County Public Health at various times and that community members can call the same number for further details.

Bonjean said Marinette County Public Health isn’t currently planning to set up vaccine clinics in schools. If schools request clinics, however, she said the health department will connect them with other community partners that have the capacity to deliver these vaccines.

Prevea Health began administering COVID vaccines for this age group Nov. 8 and has thus far delivered over 1,000 of the vaccines across Wisconsin, according to a spokesperson. Although the Prevea Health Center in Marinette is not currently administering the vaccine for this age group, Prevea Health is offering appointments on Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. at its clinic at HSHS St. Clare Memorial Hospital in Oconto Falls and Monday through Saturday, including some evening hours, at 1715 Dousman St. in Green Bay, the site of the former Prevea St. Mary’s Health Center. The Prevea Health spokesperson said Prevea Health doesn’t have immediate plans to offer the vaccine in Marinette.

The Walgreens at 2301 Hall Avenue in Marinette is also offering COVID vaccines for this age group. Community members can book appointments online, through the Walgreens app or by calling 1-715-732-4102.