Children ages 5-11 receive COVID-19 vaccines at UIHC

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics started to vaccinate children ages 5-11 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s approval.


Gabby Drees

A UIHC staff member puts a bandaid on Keagan Kleppe at the UIHC Riverside Landing Clinic in Coralville, Iowa Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2021.

Ryan Hansen and Sabine Martin

Kami Olthoff said she made her son a COVID-19 vaccine appointment the moment the clinic’s scheduling website opened Wednesday morning. The 42-year-old from North Liberty said her 11-year-old son Jacob, has been asking for the vaccine every day for a year.

“I think this, for Jacob, represents a sense of maybe getting back to normalcy,” she said.

The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics started vaccinating children on Wednesday following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between ages 5-11 on Tuesday.

The vaccine program has scheduled 1,500 appointments over the next three days at the UIHC Iowa River Landing location.

Chief Pharmacy Officer and Associate Director of UIHC Mike Brownlee said appointments opened at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning and were full in 90 minutes.

He said federal approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine made more than 13,000 kids eligible in Johnson County. Johnson County Public Health provided over 9,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to immunize children.

The Iowa Department of Public Health said in a press release on Wednesday that more than 26,000 of the 99,000 doses initially allocated to Iowa were available in the state, while the rest of the doses will arrive in the coming days.

“Any time you start a new process, you want to make sure you’re doing it the best you can,” Brownlee said. “It takes a lot of back-end coordination.”

Brownlee said the vaccine’s approval for younger children is important because even though COVID-19 is rarely serious for children, rare inflammatory conditions have been linked to children with the coronavirus.

“As we know, [COVID-19] can be spread easily, especially for kids that are in school, in close contact with each other,” Brownlee said. “I think it’s really important, tonight, to continue to slow the spread of the virus in the community. This vaccine is going to help in a tremendous way.”

Keagan Kleppe, 11, from Solon, said he was “scared to [his] core” when he walked into the clinic, but his sister distracted him during the shot.

“I didn’t feel it, it felt like a little toothpick stabbing me,” he said.

Kleppe’s mom, Carly Grantham, said Keagan hasn’t gone to school since the beginning of the pandemic because of medical complications he had when he was six months old that affected his oxygen levels.

“He’s going to go back after the first of the year. He’s been pretty isolated,” Grantham said. “He is doing online school through the school district for this fall and then whatever the first day of school is, he’ll be back.”

Rami Boutros, executive director for Iowa River Landing Clinic and division director for general pediatric and adolescent medicine, said since the vaccine clinic on Wednesday was booked up, the hospital will be doing more vaccination clinics for children soon.

“There is a lot of excitement,” he said. “You can see some of the parents that are coming in are cheering up that the vaccine is finally here. This morning we saw a lot of families the minute the schedule opened.”

Boutros said the hospital is using techniques like cold numbing spray and a device that buzzes to minimize pain from the vaccine.

“We are trying to make it fun for kids to ease it,” he said. “There are a lot of things we are doing to make things easier to help them be more comfortable about the fear and pain.”

Boutros said the vaccine’s approval will be good for children to socialize in group activities and school.

“To me, I think this is a great sign for the potential light at the end of the tunnel and having more control over the pandemic,” he said.

He added that UIHC will open up more clinics as child vaccination increases.

Henry Christiansen, Will and Neal pose for a picture at the UIHC Riverside Landing Clinic in Coralville, Iowa Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2021. Both Henry and Will received their vaccinations that day. (Gabby Drees)

Neil Christiansen, 46, and his two children, Will, 7, and Henry, almost 10, attended the clinic. Neal said he received the vaccine in February as a part of a priority group as a health care worker.

“I know that there’s a lot of research that’s gone into the COVID vaccine both for adults and kids,” Neil Christiansen said. “I really trust the scientists here at the university and worldwide to know that this is safe. I think it’s important for us to model the way for everyone else.”

He said his family’s life would be changed by the immunization of his children.

“I think it gives us the freedom to do things,” Neil Christiansen said. “For the last 18 months or so, there has been a lot of sacrifice on my kids’ part, not getting to do the things they get to do, so this is just kind of an opportunity to get one step closer to normal life again.”

Both children expressed interest in returning to hanging out with their friends. Will added that he wanted to go to Pizza Ranch.

“I want to go to huge swimming pools,” Will said.