Atlanta - At Children's Medical Group in Decatur, Georgia, the first day of the children's COVID-19 vaccine rollout began early Wednesday with shot preps and phone calls from parents.
Pediatrician Jennifer Shu says her practice has already scheduled more than 500 vaccines for next week and between 100 to 200 for the rest of this week.
"It's been crazy," Dr. Shu says. "Our phones are ringing off the hook, I think they're glitching because the volume has been so high, and we just don't have enough staff to answer the phones. But, I think it's great so many parents are interested in getting the vaccine for their kids."
Mackenzie Olson, a 5th grader, was one of the first in line to get the vaccine.
10-year-old Mackenzie Olson was one of the first kids at her Decatur, Georgia, pediatrician's office to received the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday. (Eli Jordan FOX 5 Atlanta)
"It feels amazing, because everyone else got vaccinated, and I was, like, 'Why am I not 12,'" Olson says. "I wanted to be 12 so bad, and then I finally got it."
After 21 months of taking precautions, Mackenzie's mom Christine Olson feels like they can finally relax, at least a little.
"We've always been very, very careful throughout the pandemic," Olson says. "It's more of a sense of ease, that if there is an exposure, there won't be as severe as it could have been unvaccinated. I'll keep an eye on the cases, and we'll make good decisions throughout the next few months. But, it's a relief that it will mitigate the effects of an infection."
Kids at Children's Medical Group in Decatur, Georgia, began receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday morning,
The FDA authorized the Pfizer pediatric vaccine under an emergency use authorization Friday, after a Pfizer study found the vaccine was 91% effective in preventing symptomatic infections in children ages 5 through 11.
"This has been a long time in coming," Dr. Shu says. "So, I'm really glad it's finally here, just in time for the winter holidays. I feel confident that, because it's taken so long, there has been time for the vaccine to be studied very thoroughly in this age group."
Most COVID-19 infections in school-age children are mild or asymptomatic.
But, of about 1.9 million infections in the 5 through 11 age group, about 8,300 children have been hospitalized, a third landing in an ICU.
Nearly 100 children have died from complications of the virus, US health officials say.
Still, surveys show parents are divided over vaccinating younger children.
The Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine is packaged with orange caps and labels to distinguish it from the company's vaccine for those12 and older. (Eli Jordan FOX 5 Atlanta)
About a third are eager to get the vaccine, and about two-thirds are planning to wait on vaccinating their children or skip the shots altogether.
Many parents who are hesitant about vaccinating are concerned about the newness of the vaccine, the speed with which it was developed and the potential for side effects down the road.
Christine Olson believes the vaccine is the best tool to protect her daughter.
"Even though I know that her risk of getting seriously ill is less than an adult's, it's still there, and it's unpredictable," she says. "There are lots of kids who have had no underlying health conditions and have gotten very sick."
Mackenzie Olson says she is excited to participate in more activities, like school plays.
"I think I'll be able to hang out with my friends more, and we'll be able to start our meetings and stuff," she says.
The Georgia Department of Public Health has enrolled 2,230 vaccine providers, including pediatricians, family practitioners and pharmacies.
The DPH has ordered 115,000 doses of the pediatric vaccine so far, eventually planning to order enough to vaccinate nearly a million kids 5 to 11.
The Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 vaccine is packaged with orange caps and labels to distinguish it from the company's vaccine for those12 and older.
Dr. Shu says they will be able to accommodate everyone who wants the vaccine, but it may take some time.
"We do have plenty of doses, it's just a matter of finding the time to answer these calls," Shu says. "So, we ask people to be persistent and be patient. You will be able to get the vaccine for your children."
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding also began vaccinating patients Wednesday afternoon.
Over a 100 children's hospitals will be organizing vaccine clinics for kids.
Children who do not have a primary care provide can get the vaccine through their local health departments, community health centers, rural health centers, participating pharmacies and school-based vaccine clinics.
White House officials say the children's vaccine program should be fully up and running by early next week.
Once the website www.vaccines.gov is updated to include the Pfizer pediatric vaccine, parents and guardians will be able to type in their zip code and search for providers in their area.