New Milford prepares COVID clinics as child and booster vaccines edge closer

NEW MILFORD — For several months, New Milford has been preparing for another flurry of vaccinations, which include boosters or third shots for adults and possible first-time inoculations for children under 12.

Health Director Lisa Morrissey said the town has lined up volunteers and nailed down clinic scheduling — so that “as soon as they said go, we were ready.”

“We’re really going to be hitting the release button,” she said.

This week a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel voted against COVID vaccine boosters for the general population, but approved third doses for people ages 65 and up and high-risk individuals. On Wednesday, the FDA approved Pfizer boosters for those over age 65 and people at high risk for severe disease. This includes those who work in settings where frequent exposure is likely.

Immunocompromised people have already begun receiving third doses. In Connecticut, nearly 20,000 have already received one.

On Monday, Pfizer said its vaccine trials in children aged five to 11 have been safe and highly effective, and the company aims to secure FDA approval in time for Halloween. The New York Times has reported that children now account for one in five cases of COVID-19.

“It definitely is really promising,” Morrissey said. “We’re not surprised. We’ve been really following the developments really closely over the past few weeks.”

For now, it’s a waiting game.

Morrissey has been fielding questions from families about a child vaccination timeline since the spring. Just this week, she said she was standing at the school bus stop when a neighbor asked if she had the inside scoop on eligibility expansion. Morrissey told the woman she was waiting, just like everyone else was, to hear the news.

“I think it’s an anxious excitement,” she said of parents of young children awaiting approval.

The health director often sees parents bringing their new 12-year-olds in for a vaccine, since Pfizer has been approved for children 12 and older.

“Almost every single clinic, I’ve said happy birthday to someone,” Morrissey said.

Rolling out child vaccines

New Milford’s health team has been meeting weekly with the schools to discuss rollout plans, in addition to other pandemic-related concerns. Vaccination plans include specialized clinics for children.

Many of the volunteer staff administering vaccines have a background in pediatric medical care, Morrissey said.

“We’re not anticipating that we’re going to have to change things over much,” she said.

One thing that will change, however, will be the speed at which people are cycled through the clinics. Morrissey wants to make sure the vaccinators take time to explain the vaccination process to the children, while ensuring the children are comfortable. As such, they’re going to have to “slow it down a little bit,” Morrissey said.

Area residents had mixed reactions when it came to child vaccines. A Facebook query posted by Hearst Connecticut Media on the topic yielded more than 130 responses, including a heated debate.

Roxbury resident Michelle Cole said young children should not be forced to get the vaccine.

“No one should be coerced,” she said, adding there are “too many unknowns, still.”

Bethel resident Paul Improta had the opposite view, and said child vaccines should not be feared.

“I say ‘Yes’ to the shots, and let the kids be free to come and go without the mask. I trust in science,” Improta said. “These types of vaccines are nothing experimental. I get a flu shot every year.”

He recalled his childhood, receiving a variety of vaccines, and said he never had an adverse reaction to any of them.

“I remember when I was child lining up for the TB (tuberculosis) shot in school, as well as the ‘Rubella Umbrella’ vaccine,” he said. “I'm 60 years old, didn't become autistic, was never impotent, and haven't grown a third head yet. And, yes, I had the Pfizer shots back in the spring.”

Christine Baluha, of New Milford, said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the Pfizer vaccine being approved for children.

“Once it has full FDA approval, my plan is to talk to my pediatrician and get my oldest daughter (age 5) vaccinated,” she said, adding she and her husband are both vaccinated and have elderly immunocompromised parents that they see regularly.

Additionally, she said now that our daughter is in kindergarten and is exposed to many more people with many views on vaccines and masking, she wants her to be as protected as possible.

She said she believes in “science and I believe that doctors and scientists are making recommendations based on the information they have.”

Some residents said they had questions about the safety of the vaccine for their small children or grandchildren.

“We’re really hoping that a decision is made soon so we can really start giving answers to people in the community,” Morrissey said.