Families flock to Rady Children’s Hospital for under-5 COVID vaccines

Ryan Balke from South Park held 23-month-old Pippa Balke so that Shelley Abcarius, RN could vaccinate her with the Moderna vaccine at Rady Children’s Hospital on Tuesday, June 21, 2022.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Parents have been waiting for two years to inoculate their kids against the virus

From a therapy dog to live accordion music, the adults tried hard Tuesday morning at Rady Children’s Hospital to calm and distract as the first wave of kids younger than 5 years of age arrived to receive their first doses of coronavirus vaccine.

Four-year-old Tessa Hamilton came with her dad, Lawrence Hamilton Lawson, who was carrying a wrapped present and a promise that she could open it after a quick stick in her upper arm.

An early gift for her fifth birthday, which is coming up on Saturday, the Moana doll inside the box was appreciated, but the shot got little more than a quick wince.

How was it?

“It hurt,” she said with a shrug, her mind already focusing on a new goal, the new children’s museum in downtown San Diego, a location that has been off-limits for about half her life.


Karen Hamilton, Tessa’s mom, said her child has yearned to visit the popular destination for months, but the family held back, wanting to make sure that she had some protection before heading out to public destinations.

Tessa Hamilton, 4, from Tierrasanta is comforted by her mother Karen Hamilton after being vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine at Rady Children’s Hospital on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in San Diego, CA.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“We’ve been working very hard to keep her safe for the past two years, and this will protect her from severe illness and hospitalization,” Hamilton said.

“We are just excited for her to get to be around other kids without being as nervous about her getting sick or her getting other people sick,” her dad added.

Starting at 7 a.m. Tuesday, a line formed at Rady’s main vaccination clinic, with parents eager to have their kids under age 5 get their vaccination journeys started after such a long wait. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its formal recommendation for this group last week, estimated to include 207,723 kids in San Diego County.

Among the early arrivals at Rady Tuesday was Eve Lanham of Rancho Penasquitos and 3-year-old daughter, Sienna.

The visit was Sienna’s second encounter with COVID-19 shots. She participated in the Moderna clinical trial, receiving two shots in recent months, both of which were saline solution rather than an active vaccine, the family found out a few days ago.

Confirmation of her suspicions that her daughter was in the placebo group left Lanham with an urgency to get the vaccine as quickly as possible, but not with a feeling of frustration that the previous visits to the doctor were wasted. Even though Sienna ended up getting two shots that didn’t get her vaccination course started early, and also underwent a large blood draw as part of the trial, the effort, she said, seemed very worth it.

“It was our turn to contribute to the cause, and I’m proud of her,” Eve Lanham said.

At Rady Children’s Hospital on Tuesday, June 21, 2022 in San Diego, CA., Teresa Faber from San Marcos held her 3-year old daughter on her lap so that Shelley Abcarius, RN could vaccinate her with the Moderna vaccine.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Unlike previous approvals for adults and adolescents, federal approval arrived simultaneously for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in kids aged 6 months to 4 years. Moderna, though, includes two shots, one less than for Pfizer, and that difference seemed to appeal to many of the 500 people scheduled to get initial shots at Rady Tuesday.

While one fewer shot surely had something to do with it, Lanham noted that the shorter course for Moderna is the only one that allows a child who starts now to achieve something close to full immunity by the time the next school year starts.

While the crowd that arrived for vaccination at Rady Tuesday was eager to get the process underway, they likely are not a representative sample of the public. Many were in technical fields well-versed with reading medical studies or were directly connected to a medical field or at least friends with someone in medicine.

A college professor, Karen Hamilton said that she was most impressed, not necessarily by reading vaccine trial results for herself, but by watching the actions of those who know best. Pediatricians she knows, she said, have been open about wanting to be first in line to get their kids under 5 vaccinated.

“To me, that’s just proof that they know it’s safe and that it’s going to protect,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know more than a doctor, so if a pediatrician’s going to be first, then I’ll be second in line.”

Rady officials said they had about 7,000 doses on hand and would be doing the bulk of vaccination work at the main clinic at the hospital. Doctors offices are also receiving doses directly, with both Sharp HealthCare and Kaiser Permanente indicating that affiliated pediatricians are making vaccination appointments with their existing patients.