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'People want to do it with their pediatrician:' Health Department evolves strategy to promote COVID vaccine for kids

In Winnebago County, 20% of children 5-11 years old are fully vaccinated. Just over 40% of kids 12-17years old have received both COVID-19 shots. Both numbers are below the average for the state of Illinois.

Dr. Sandra Martell, head of the Winnebago County Health Department, says they’re evolving how they promote and distribute the vaccine at this point in the pandemic.

There's usually an initial push when the shot opens up to a new age range, but enthusiasm inevitably wanes — especially so when it coincides with lower case rates.

Right now, she says people aren’t interested in large mass vaccination events or even school-based clinics.

“They're not coming to those kinds of events,” she said. "So, it's going to take more one-on-one, especially for smaller children. We understand that people are going to want to do it with their pediatrician or their primary care provider.”

Pediatricians can use that opportunity to vaccinate their whole families. Martell says even though children have often experienced milder symptoms, they can still get sick and can still spread the virus.

They may have to return to larger clinics when more younger people are due for booster shots or if a fourth shot is deemed necessary for some adults.

She says she’s still having conversations with parents and their kids to dispel myths about the vaccine.

“It was fun. They would ask you questions about the vaccine about how it was developed. Does it change your DNA?” she said. “I couldn't really determine if that group got vaccinated. I would hope that maybe it had some positive influence rather than a negative, but I think we just have to keep engaging people in that conversation.”

She’s urging people to get vaccinated to protect vulnerable family members and prevent the development of variants – something the Omicron wave showed is especially important. But Martell says it’s a challenge to keep people focused on that when disease rates are down.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.