Over 800 area children under the age of 5 have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine through the Oak Park Department of Public Health’s weekly vaccine clinics, according to Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder. The number may be higher, she said, as it only reflects children who attended the department’s vaccination clinics from the tail end of June through July, not those who got them from medical providers in Oak Park.

When vaccines for this age group — which includes 6-month-old infants — were approved by the federal government in mid-June, the department began administering first doses at a clinic by the end of that month, Chapple-McGruder explained. It also supplied 1,000 COVID vaccines to medical providers in the community. 

“This is extremely exciting,” she said, as the number of local children who are on their way to being fully vaccinated by the fall now exceeds the national average of about 3%.

“If we just count the 840 that we’ve done ourselves, then we’re at about 30% of the children in the community being vaccinated. Knowing we’ve given enough vaccine to providers in the community to vaccinate another 30-35%, I’m feeling really good about the number of small children who are entering the fall protected from hospitalization and severe disease.”

As of July 20, 2.8% of children under 5 in the U.S. — approximately 544,000 of 19 million children in that age group — have gotten at least one COVID vaccine dose, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit focused on national health issues. Of that 544,000, Illinois children accounted for 22,117 and ranked No. 20 among the states with the highest vaccination rates for that age group, KFF reported.

The nonprofit also noted that vaccinations among the youngest age group are far behind the 5- to 11-year-olds, who became eligible for COVID vaccines last November. The youngest age group already peaked before the July 4 holiday hit, averaging 28,000 daily doses by July 1 and dropping just weeks later to 13,000. Meanwhile, the 5-11 age group peaked at 271,000 average daily doses soon after they became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, KFF reported. By that point, the nonprofit said, close to 3 million children in that group — or about 9% — had received their first dose.

Though COVID-19 vaccines have been available to most people for more than a year, Chapple-McGruder said she continues to see some who are concerned about them and remain hesitant to schedule an appointment. Even in Oak Parkers, where 82% of residents are fully vaccinated and the public health department’s clinics see about 150 to 180 people per week, she said, there are still others who have questions about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness. That includes parents with babies and toddlers.

Chapple-McGruder said an integral piece of any Public Health Department is education, and she and her team have worked to help bring awareness to the pros and cons of COVID-19 vaccines. In recent months, the department surveyed families with young children who attend daycare centers to better understand their thoughts on the vaccines and phoned parents and guardians who had additional questions.

“If you have questions about the vaccine, you can reach out to us,” Chapple-McGruder said. “We are willing to talk. We are willing to share information. We’re willing to share data.”

Vaccine clinics

The Oak Park Department of Public Health will continue to host weekly vaccine clinics for the remainder of the summer at Cheney Mansion, 220 N. Euclid Ave. in Oak Park. Clinics take place from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays. Appointments are available for individuals 6 months and older, and registration is required. For more information, visit the village of Oak Park website at www.oak-park.us.

The Public Health Department is also offering free COVID-19 PCR and rapid tests for the community. More details are listed on the village website. 

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