NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — At the height of the COVID Delta variant surge in Tennessee nearly 40 percent of kids accounted for positive cases.

Soon after doctors continued to warn about a rare inflammatory condition with links to COVID.

Doctors said now that children ages 5-11 are eligible for vaccines, communities could be safer if children are vaccinated.

The Tennessee Department of Health said based on census data from 2020, the population estimate for children eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination in Tennessee is 588,063.

“This has the potential to be one of the biggest steps forward for us in getting back to a normal life,” Dr. Isaac Thomsen, an Associate Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said.

The CDC and FDA recently gave the green light for the shots.

“This is a time to trust the expertise, those that really know, that have been studying this,” Thomsen said. “We know it’s safe. We now know from the children’s trials that it’s safe in this age group.”

Doctors said vaccinating the younger population is key to helping move past the pandemic.

“It took a while to do these studies, but we know now that across households – even if kids themselves in that 5-11 age group – even if they don’t have much in the way of symptoms, they’re spreading to others,” he said. “They’re just remaining another constant source of letting this virus circulate in the community.”

Ultimately, parents are still asking will their child be protected?

“We have a really, really good handle on this vaccine. We understand what it does. We know how safe it is,” Thomsen said. “There were no additional side effects in children. They’re going to have a sore arm the next day. They might be tired. They might be a little cranky.”

With Tennessee leading the nation at times in pediatric COVID cases, Thomsen said the vaccinations will help.

“We had surges in children’s hospitals across the state. We led the country in kids that were sick and hospitalized with COVID,” he continued, “Yes, it’s uncommon, but it absolutely happens, and those who have seen it with their own eyes, there’s no question about the seriousness of this.”

Currently, toddlers and babies 6 months and up are not eligible for vaccination, however lower dose trials are ongoing.