To say that Andrea Saniuk-Gove was eager to have her 9-month-old daughter vaccinated against COVID-19 would be an understatement.

“I was refreshing the appointment page (for the pediatrician’s office) all weekend long” after federal officials on Saturday gave the final approval to give vaccines to children 6 months to 5 years old.

Saniuk-Gove got an appointment for late Tuesday afternoon and said her daughter, Sage, took the shot in the thigh like a trooper.

“Just a little peep,” she said.

This week’s rollout of shots for preschoolers fills a major gap in vaccine availability nearly a year and a half after the initial doses were provided to adults. Vaccines later became available for adolescents and children 5 years and older. Many parents of young children, like Saniuk-Gove, have been eagerly awaiting the approval, worried that their efforts to shield their children from the virus wouldn’t be enough.

Jennifer Kellerman of Brunswick also rushed to make an appointment for her daughter Evelyn, who is 2½, to get vaccinated.

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“She was really brave, only a couple of tears,” Kellerman said of her daughter, who was promised a treat if the shot went well.

“We’re headed to the ice cream shop,” said Kellerman, relieved to finally have her daughter gain some protection against the virus.

Evelyn Kellerman, 2, begins to cry as she is vaccinated by nurse Sarah Fabian and held by mother Jennifer Kellerman at Mid Coast Pediatrics, part of Mid Coast Hospital, on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Watching others get vaccinated while waiting for approval for children her daughter’s age “felt like forever – like being at the end of a very long lunch line,” Kellerman said. “COVID completely changed our lives … it really dictated our lives and we weren’t able to gather as a family as we normally would.”

Now, Kellerman said, she and her daughter will be able to do things that would have seemed minor before the pandemic swept the globe, like going into a grocery store together.

“It’s another step closer back to ‘normal life,’ whatever that is,” she said.

State health officials have said they expect a relatively high percentage of Maine families to choose to vaccinate their young children because the state has consistently had one of the nation’s highest rates of overall vaccination.

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But that doesn’t mean most parents of preschoolers are rushing to get the shots. Physicians encountered resistance when the vaccines were rolled out to 5- to 12-year-olds, with ambivalent parents saying they would wait and see if the shots were really needed.

More than seven months after those children became eligible, just 42 percent of Maine kids between 5 and 11 years old have been fully vaccinated, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That compares to 78 percent of all Maine people over 5 years old and 90 percent of people 90 and over.

Nine-month-old Sage Saniuk-Gove gets her COVID-19 vaccination from nurse practitioner Patsy Cyr as Sage is held by her mother, Andrea Saniuk-Gove, at MidCoast Pediatrics, part of Midcoast Hospital, on Tuesday in Brunswick. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

On Sunday, Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, posted a string of messages on Twitter urging parents to make sure they get their children vaccinated. He said some parents may think that it’s unlikely that their kids will get COVID or that they won’t face a serious illness if they do, but that’s not the case.

“Kids can get COVID, they can become sick from it, and they can die from it,” Shah said.

Maine received its initial allotment of vaccines – 24,000 doses – over the weekend and on Monday started sending them out to pediatricians’ offices, family practices and hospitals to start the vaccination effort. The Brunswick pediatrician for Saniuk-Gove and Kellerman is part of the MaineHealth system, which started vaccinations Tuesday.

The state’s other major health care network, Northern Light, said it expected to begin vaccinations next week.

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In addition to supplying physician networks, some vaccines also will be available through pharmacies, but they are prohibited from vaccinating children under the age of 3. State officials are urging parents to contact a pediatrician or family care provider to arrange vaccinations.

None of the health care systems in the state have said they plan to offer mass vaccination sites, like they did in early 2021 for adults, because it wouldn’t be an appropriate setting for vaccinating small children.

Both versions of the vaccine require follow-up shots and public health officials are urging parents to make sure their children get all their shots this summer.

Pfizer’s vaccine is one-tenth of the adult dose and requires three shots, the first two administered three weeks apart and the last at least three months later. Moderna’s vaccine, a quarter the strength of its adult version, requires two shots about four weeks apart.

Maine’s initial allotment of more than 24,000 doses of the vaccines was equally split between the two manufacturers.

There are an estimated 60,000 Maine children between 6 months and 5 years old.

Statewide, the number of patients hospitalized in Maine with COVID-19 declined from 126 on Monday to 120 on Thursday. Of those hospitalized, 21 were in critical care and four were on respirators.

Since the pandemic began, Maine has recorded 267,707 cases and 2,408 deaths, according to the most recent state data.

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