August 11, 2022, by Sophia Chang

New York City will close its municipal-run COVID-19 vaccination sites for children younger than 5 years old next week, citing a recent decrease in demand and greater availability of the shots via pediatricians and other health providers.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed the closures, but did not specify the date the sites will close. But City Councilmembers Lincoln Restler and Gale Brewer have said the sites will shutter on August 14th. As of Thursday, online appointments for children younger than 5 at the city-run sites were not available after August 14th on the health department’s vaccine finder website. Kids in this age group have been eligible for COVID-19 vaccines for less than two months.

The city’s COVID-19 tracker has not publicly released data on the progress of toddler vaccination, but the health department said rates are dropping.

“The number of vaccinations at these sites has decreased in recent weeks, and we always planned to transition vaccination for very young children to providers,” health department spokesperson Patrick Gallahue said. “In fact, nearly 500 providers in New York City have administered vaccine(s) to this age group.”

The city opened 10 sites on June 22nd where young kids could get doses of the two-shot Moderna vaccine, while many pharmacies and pediatricians offered the Pfizer vaccine, which requires three shots for full inoculation.

Gallahue said the city-run toddler sites are pivoting to monkeypox vaccine administration — at least two city locations in Brooklyn that had dispensed the so-called baby COVID vaccine have already made the switch.

In a letter to the New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan last week, Brewer decried the timing of the closures, pointing out that public school starts in less than a month.

“I strongly urge you to maintain these family-friendly sites, at least until mid-September so that children who are going to day care and school can get vaccinated,” Brewer wrote in the August 3rd letter.

Brewer added, “As COVID vaccines were only made available to children under 5 since June 22, 2022 and it’s still an important measure of the safety of children and the entire community, DOHMH should extend the operations at these pediatric sites through at least the early fall.”

When the rollout started, some pediatricians said they were not equipped to administer the COVID vaccines because of limited access to cold storage, while state law prohibits pharmacies from dispensing vaccines to kids under the age of 3.

Parents can book appointments via the NYC Health + Hospitals system, but Brewer pointed out only Pfizer shots are available there, complicating the search for Moderna doses.

“The Pfizer vaccine is a good option as well for families, but this is not helpful to parents who have already started or prefer the Moderna vaccine. DOHMH also recommends that families can go to their pediatrician or local pharmacies,” Brewer said. “I hear from constituents that some of their pediatricians don’t offer the vaccine they want, and few pharmacies have staff that are practiced with giving the very smallest children vaccinations.”

The health department said there are dozens of providers throughout the city who will vaccinate children, including chain pharmacies and neighborhood health centers.

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