Youngest Chicagoans focus of latest vaccination push

The Chicago Department of Public Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois are teaming up to open family vaccination clinics on the South Side throughout the summer.

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Viktoria de Jong (right) talks to a 4-year-old boy as he sits on his mother’s lap after getting his first COVID-19 shot.

Viktoria de Jong (right) talks to a 4-year-old boy as he sits on his mother’s lap after getting his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday at the Blue Door Neighborhood Center in Morgan Park.

Mariah Rush/Sun-Times

With the COVID-19 vaccine approved for children under age 5 earlier this month, the push is continuing to get needles into those little arms.

To help accomplish that, the Chicago Department of Public Health is teaming up with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois to provide the vaccine at the health insurer’s Blue Door Neighborhood Center locations on the South and West side.

Family vaccination clinics will be held throughout the summer at Blue Door Neighborhood Centers in Pullman, Morgan Park and South Lawndale.

Over 2,000 children age 6 months to 5 years have been vaccinated since the vaccine was approved for that age group.

“These are vaccines that have been designed for the youngest children, they’re safe for the youngest children,” Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Tuesday at the Blue Door site in Morgan Park.

“And importantly, they’re effective for helping prevent against severe illness, preventing against long COVID and helping to stop the spread of COVID.”

Arwady urged families to vaccinate eligible children at one of the many available sites around the city — but also to contact their family doctor, because children should get the shot where they’ll be most comfortable.

“We know that young kids … care the most about the type of band-aids that they get,” Arwady said.

Joyce Chapman, Healthy Chicago Equity Zone’s lead coordinator with Phalanx Family Services, said the first step to boost vaccination rates is educating families on the vaccines. 

“There are people that say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want it. Oh, no, it’s going to kill me.’ And we get it,” Chapman said. “So we still give them the information and let them make a decision. And sometimes — it might be a month later — we’ll go back out, and they say, ‘I’m ready for the shot.’”

Later, Chapman watched a 4-year-old boy sit on his mother’s lap and take the shot without flinching.

Viktoria de Jong, a child life specialist with CDPH tasked with managing pain and making the process as easy as possible, sat in front of the young boy as he got his shot, and held up various gadgets with glittering lights to distract him.

“But he did so well,” de Jong said, smiling. “He was so brave.”

Mariah Rush is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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