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Milton firefighters help kids get vaccinated against COVID-19

Milton Vaccine Clinic

From left, Milton Deputy Fire Marshal Johnny Gomez gives resident Cricket Collins a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine Dec. 2 as her sons, Liam and Henry Collins, provide support. Cricket Collins said she is Type 1 diabetic, so because she is immunocompromised, her doctor recommended that she get a booster.

MILTON, Ga. — Cricket Collins’ two boys closely watched as she got her COVID-19 booster shot from Milton Deputy Fire Marshal Johnny Gomez.

She said 8-year-old Liam and 10-year-old Henry Collins had already received their first dose of the vaccine, but that they had been nervous when they got it. So, to put them at ease, she invited them along to watch her get a booster from the Milton Fire Department Dec. 2.

“It was just so they knew everybody’s doing it, and it really doesn’t hurt,” she said.

The Milton Fire Department resumed its COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Community Place next to City Hall in mid-November. All three vaccine options – Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer – are available and, for the first time, so are shots for eligible children. The clinics are available to anyone who qualifies, not just Milton residents.

Launched last spring as an extension of Milton Fire, Community Advocates for Referral and Education Services is a free outreach and assistance program that bridges the gap between emergency care and everyday health care needs. It conducts the clinics in partnership with ReVue Pharmacy.

In addition to specially trained firefighters, CARES uses Fire Department volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Team program to offer free health screenings to check blood pressure, heart rhythm abnormalities and more at the vaccine clinics.

Fire Chief Gabe Benmoussa said the emergence of the COVID-19 omicron variant and the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization for Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11 prompted the department to revive the clinics.

So far, there seems to be community interest. Benmoussa said that in four days, firefighters administered about 200 vaccines on adults and about 40 to kids.

The Centers for Disease Control states the Pfizer vaccine is over 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5 to 11 and will reduce their risk of severe disease, hospitalization or long-term COVID-19 complications. After receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, children may experience similar side effects as those seen in adults and with other vaccines, the most common being a sore arm, the CDC says.

Capt. Mark Haskins, the department’s new medical services officer, said that since rebooting the clinics, 515 people have been vaccinated, including approximately 46 children between the ages of 5 and 11. Firefighters are also going out into the community. On Dec. 8, Milton firefighters provided 44 doses to seniors at The Phoenix at Milton assisted living facility.

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Milton Vaccine Clinic

Deputy Fire Marshal Johnny Gomez administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a Milton resident at a vaccine clinic at Community Place Dec. 2. The Milton Fire Department offers the clinics in partnership with ReVue Pharmacy.

Top infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci has said that booster shots will be an essential tool to keep infections under control throughout the holidays. The CDC also recommends booster shots for all adults and gives them the option to get a different version than they originally received.

As of Dec. 10, the Georgia Department of Health reported 62% of Fulton County residents have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, 56% have received both doses and 27% have received an additional dose after being fully vaccinated, slightly higher than the rates statewide.

But, Fulton County remains one of the top five counties in Georgia with the greatest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. The Health Department reported 226 cases Dec. 8, up from 148 the week before. It also reported a 7-day average for new COVID-19 cases at 111, up from the prior number of 77.1.

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Earlier this month, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the main driver of current COVID-19 cases across the U.S. remains the delta variant of the coronavirus, not omicron. The majority of cases, she said, are among people who remain unvaccinated.

After getting her booster shot, Cricket Collins asked her boys for a high-five. They were due at the pediatrician’s office for their second dose in the coming days. She said the firefighters made it easy, adding that she was glad they were offering it.

“I’m Type 1 diabetic, so I’m immunocompromised,” Cricket Collins said. “And I actually have several people that I know who’ve passed away unvaccinated. I don’t know anybody personally who’s passed away that was vaccinated. So, I talked to my doctors about it, and they recommended that I get a booster shot.”

Flu shots are also being offered at the vaccine clinics. Haskins said 27 flu shots have been administered so far.

No pre-registration or scheduling is required for any of the clinics, but a parent must accompany children being vaccinated. Those who are interested can simply show up and register quickly on-site.

For updates about upcoming clinics, visit City of Milton on Facebook or email covidsupport@cityofmiltonga.us.

Reach Chamian Cruz at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @xchamian.