By EMMA GALLEGOS
It’s official: Everyone 12 years old and older in Kern County is now eligible for vaccination against COVID-19.
The Kern County Public Health Services Department announced Thursday that local providers can now administer the Pfizer vaccine to those who are 12 to 15 years old. It is yet another segment of the population that is now vaccine eligible, as local and state economies continue to reopen and hope increases that a return to normal is not far away.
On Stockdale Highway, a flashing sign welcomed those age 12 and older to the Cal State Bakersfield vaccination hub, which is in its final week of operation.
Frank Diniz arrived at the hub with his 12-year-old son, Frank Jr., who is the last person in his family to get the vaccine. He said it will be a good protective measure for his son in his daily life. Right now he is back in a classroom at Del Rio Elementary.
But it will also help the family return to a lot of the activities that they used to do together without worry before the pandemic: Frank Diniz said he’s looking forward to being able to visit family, and also to travel and go to crowded places such as Disneyland and Las Vegas.
“We feel safe and like we can go about our lives again,” Frank Diniz said.
David Womack, senior vice president for Kaiser Permanente, said that on Thursday many of the patients getting vaccinated were in the newly-eligible younger age range, like Frank Diniz Jr.
“We are starting to see some, but it’s not the flood we expected,” he said.
Womack said some eager parents even tried to bring their children for a shot earlier in the week when the Food and Drug Administration amended the Pfizer vaccine’s Emergency Use Authorization to include 12 to 15 year olds. He explained to them that they had to wait for one more step.
On Wednesday, it came. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine safety review panel and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup recommended the vaccine as a safe and effective measure in protecting the 12-to-15 age group against severe illness, hospitalization and death.
Wednesday night these young patients were able to begin making appointments for the vaccine.
Womack said that with a wave of newly-eligible young patients, there was discussion about keeping the Cal State Bakersfield vaccination hub open beyond Friday. But Thursday’s response — just 300 appointments were made at the hub — demonstrated that the new emphasis on mobile clinics in hard-to-reach communities around the county was for the best.
“The problem now is communities where there are barriers or there is hesitancy,” he said.
The Kern County Fairgrounds will remain open as a mass vaccination clinic five days a week, and it was immediately open to those with adolescents who wanted to drive up and get a shot.
But now a new mobile effort will begin in Kern County’s elementary school districts where some of these younger patients attend school. Michelle Corson, spokeswoman for the Kern County Public Health Services Department, said that ahead of Pfizer’s authorization, the department began to reach out to these districts to coordinate mobile vaccination sites at schools, using the model the department deployed for its high school efforts.
Bakersfield City School District spokeswoman Tabatha Mills said the district is in the very early stages of “looking into opportunities to provide the vaccine for families who are interested through a third-party health care provider.”
The expanded eligibility was good news for the Kern Medical mobile units that have been setting up shop at Kern High School District sites around the county. They offer the Pfizer vaccine to students with the permission of their parents, as well as other community members. Kern Medical opened its mobile clinic to those 12 and older at Nueva High School in Lamont on Thursday afternoon, according to a spokesperson.
This week Brynn Carrigan, director of Kern County Public Health Services, encouraged everyone able to get a vaccine as a way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.
“Vaccination is the safest and most effective way to build immunity against COVID-19,” Carrigan said in a statement. “Ending this pandemic requires using all of the tools we have available, including practicing healthy habits, masking, distancing, and, most importantly, getting vaccinated. Get vaccinated for yourself, your family and our community.”
The FDA stated that in clinical trials for this age group, the Pfizer vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. Commonly reported side effects were similar to those 16 years and older: pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, chills, muscle pain and fever. The side effects tend to be more pronounced after the second dose.