LVHN launches COVID vaccine clinics for young kids in northeast Pa.

Starting next week, families will be able to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for children at three Lehigh Valley Health Network locations across northeastern Pennsylvania.

LVHN announced the launch of the appointment-only Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination opportunities for children ages six months to four years, which will be available at specific vaccination clinics in Monroe, Luzerne, and Schuylkill counties, on Wednesday.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine series is a three-shot regimen, with each dose being one-tenth the dose of the vaccine given to adults. Children receiving the vaccine series are given the first two doses three weeks apart and a third at least two months later. Those who attend all three dates in a set will complete their full vaccine series.

"Children can develop significant disease and complications from COVID, and in addition they can spread it to others. Although life-threatening complications are rare, it is still a significant disease with potential complications, and the risk of the vaccines is extremely low. Therefore, the risk benefit ratio definitely favors vaccines," Dr. J. Nathan Hagstrom, chair of LVHN's Department of Pediatrics, said.

The clinics will kick off at Pottsville's COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic–Schuylkill, located at the hospital's E. Norwegian Street, Wall Auditorium on the third floor lobby from noon to 6 p.m. on Monday, July 11. Subsequent follow-up clinics are set from noon to 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 1 and Monday, Sept. 26.

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East Stroudsburg's clinic, located at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Pocono, runs from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13, with follow-ups set for the same time on Wednesday, Aug. 3 and Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The Hazleton clinic set, which will take place at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Hazleton's main lobby, will run from noon to 6 p.m. on Monday, July 25, with follow-ups set for the same time on Monday, Aug. 15 and Monday, Oct. 10.Parents and guardians can sign their children up for an appointment either online or via a phone call.

In order to sign up online, the parent or guardian must have proxy access to their child's MyLVHN patient portal account. LVHN advises parents and guardians that do not have proxy access to contact their child's health care provider. If your child does not have an LVHN provider, the network advises you to call 888-402-LVHN (5846).

Parents and guardians can also call the COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline at 833-584-6283 (833-LVHN-CVD), which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

If your child cannot attend all the clinic dates in a set, a staff member at their first vaccine appointment will provide options for scheduling their second and third doses.

Doctors advise that there are common side effects in this younger age group post-vaccination, though they are mild and tend to resolve completely within two days. Side effects may include chills, decreased appetite, drowsiness, irritability, fever, headache, muscle aches, nausea or vomiting, and pain, swelling, and/or redness at the injection site.

While medical experts note it is completely normal for a child to experience these side effects, if a parent or guardian has any questions, they should reach out to the child's pediatrician for any support.

"We know of no long-term effects from these vaccines. The vaccine has been given to a lot of children over the age of four and a lot of adults, and there were very few complications. In fact, we saw very few if any significant myocarditis in the school-age children," Hagstrom said, adding that the vaccines are generally "well tolerated" among children.

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COVID-19 in kids

The Mayo Clinic notes that children represent about 19% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S. since the pandemic began. Within Pennsylvania, the Department of Health has noted 213,072 cases of COVID-19 among patients ages zero to nine years as of Thursday. These rates eclipse those seen in age ranges of 70-79 years, 80-89 years, 90-99 years and 100-109 years.

While kids are less likely to become severely ill if they contract COVID-19 — up to 50% of children and adolescents might experience the virus with no symptoms — some children "need to be hospitalized, treated in the intensive care unit or placed on a ventilator to help them breathe."

Children with medical issues including obesity, diabetes, asthma, congenital heart disease, genetic conditions, and/or conditions affecting the nervous system or metabolism may increase their risk of serious illness with COVID-19.

Research has also suggested that Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black children experience disproportionate rates of COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white children.

Babies under the age of one year might be at a higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 than other children, the Mayo Clinic notes.

Newborns may contract COVID-19 during childbirth or by exposure to sick caregivers after delivery.

The Mayo Clinic advises if you have COVID-19 or are waiting for test results due to symptoms during your stay in the hospital after childbirth, wear a well-fitting face mask and have clean hands when caring for your newborn. Maintaining a reasonable distance from the baby when possible is recommended, though keeping the child's crib by your bed while in the hospital is okay.

"When these steps are taken, the risk of a newborn getting COVID-19 is low. However, if you are severely ill with COVID-19, you might need to be temporarily separated from your newborn," the Mayo Clinic states on its website for COVID-19 in babies and children.

Infants who have COVID-19 but lack symptoms might be sent home from the hospital, depending upon circumstances. Children's caregivers should wear face masks and wash their hands to protect themselves.

The Mayo Clinic advises frequent follow-ups with the baby's health care provider— either by phone, virtual visits or in-office visits — for two weeks. Infants who test negative for COVID-19 can be sent home from the hospital.

Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 in children include fever, a cough that becomes productive, chest pain, new loss of taste or smell, changes in the skin, such as discolored areas on the feet and hands, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, belly pain or diarrhea, chills, muscle aches and pain, extreme fatigue, new severe headache, and new nasal congestion.

On average, COVID-19 symptoms in children appear about six days after exposure to the virus, though it can be difficult to tell if a child has COVID-19 or another illnesses with similar symptoms, such as the flu or hay fever.

If you think your child may have COVID-19, the Mayo Clinic recommends contacting the child's physician, isolating the child from others — including having the child use a separate bedroom and bathroom if possible — following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, addressing symptom relief through rest, fluids and the use of pain relievers, and contacting the doctor if the child becomes sicker.

Emergency warning signs for COVID-19 in kids include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on the child's skin tone. If these conditions arise, medical experts advise taking the child to an emergency room for immediate care.

Brian Myszkowski covers the COVID-19 pandemic in northeast Pennsylvania and is based at the Pocono Record. Reach him by emailing bmyszkowski@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Pocono Record: LVHN to start COVID-19 clinics for kid vaccinations in northeastern PA