Evanston is among the most COVID-19-vaccinated communities in the nation.

According to the city’s Health and Human Services Department, 97% of Evanston residents ages 5 and older have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and 90% of those 5 and above are fully vaccinated.

But now, it’s the “Drive for Under Five.”

(Okay, that’s not an official title. I made it up. But it’s not bad, is it?).

Last week, the federal government approved both Moderna and Pfizer COVID shots for children ages 6 months up to 5 years of age. Until now it had been age 5 and over.

And for many families, with everyone vaccinated so far except the littlest ones, it’s what they’ve been waiting for.

“I have parents coming in teary eyed, they’re so relieved,” says Dr. Sharon Robinson, a pediatrician with Evanston-based NorthShore University HealthSystem.

But while there is plenty of enthusiasm for getting youngsters vaccinated, it’s not as much as when vaccines opened up for older kids.

“I am seeing a good amount of demand,” Robinson says, “but it’s not as robust for kids 5-11, and 12 and older.”

Dr. Sara Star, an Evanston resident who practices with Highland Park Pediatrics, is seeing the same thing.

“It’s not as strong as the onslaught” for 5-12 year olds, Star says. “People were breaking down our doors,” figuratively anyway, to get the older children vaccinated.

Now, she notes, most interest for children under 5 comes from “parents whose kids are going to preschool in the fall.”

But why the lower demand now?

It may be a combination of COVID-fatigue, plus “wait-and-see” if there are negative side effects for the youngest patients.

Both pediatricians say that’s not the right approach.

“I tell parents don’t wait,” Star says. “Vaccines are safe and effective. Your child is much more likely to get sick from COVID than from the shots.”

And Robinson notes an irony. The 6 months-to-age-5 population is already “the most heavily vaccinated age group.” Little kids get lots of shots.

“It goes to show you,” Robinson says, “how challenging it is to message public health the right way.”

The doctors, and the CDC, all say that your little children should be vaccinated, even if they’ve already had COVID.

There is no guarantee, of course, that getting vaccinated will prevent getting COVID. In fact, with the new substrain, there’s a pretty good chance that you know someone who had the shots but still got the virus. Maybe it’s even you.

But both pediatricians say being vaccinated, for any age group, gives people a far greater chance of having a less serious bout of COVID if they do get sick, with a significantly lower chance of ending up in the hospital.

Shot availability may vary for now.

If your child has a regular pediatrician, you can try scheduling the shots there. CVS Minute Clinics provide the vaccinations for those over 18 months, Walgreens for kids over 3.

Large facilities such as the immunization clinic at Evanston Hospital have vaccines for all eligible age groups. Appointments are required.

But wherever you can go, the doctors are stressing that you should do it. Don’t wait and see.

“I would not take that gamble with my child,” says Robinson.

And Star says “we don’t want the kids to get sick.” COVID can still be “a risk for them to be much sicker than from other viral illnesses, even the flu,” if they are not vaccinated.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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