Vaxxing kids for COVID could start next week | October 29, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 29, 2021

Vaxxing kids for COVID could start next week

Santa Clara County health leaders prepare for emergency-use authorization to inoculate kids 5 to 11 years old

by Sue Dremann

COVID-19 vaccines could be available for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as Nov. 3 if all goes well with the approval process, Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, Santa Clara County's vaccine control officer, said on Wednesday.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended emergency authorization use of Pfizer-BioNTech's pediatric vaccine on Oct. 26, which is one-third of the adult dose. Adult doses aren't authorized to be split and used for children as they have a different formulation, he said.

If the FDA adopts the recommendation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would then decide whether to give its approval for the emergency use as soon as mid-week. The county's Department of Public Health expects to have 55,000 doses of the child-formulated Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines when they first roll out. Those doses would put an initial shot in the arm of about one-third of the county's total population of 167,000 children who are 5- to 11-years-old, he said.

Fenstersheib said the county doesn't anticipate any shortages and expects there will be enough pediatric vaccines. Additional supplies also would be available in the following weeks.

To be fully vaccinated, children must receive two doses 21 days apart. They would attain full immunity after two weeks of receiving the second dose. The Pfizer pediatric vaccine has been shown to be 90% effective against causing symptomatic disease in children from the SARS-Co-V-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 infection, he said.

Side effects from the pediatric vaccines have also proven to be relatively mild, with some pain in the arm, sometimes headaches and sometimes fatigue and some muscle aches, he said.

The county plans to set up vaccine clinics in schools and will have more information regarding those locations available next week. Vaccines will also be available at many pharmacies, through private physicians and at community vaccination clinics. About 11,000 of the initial 55,000 doses will be available through retail pharmacies, he said.

Health leaders anticipate there will be some hesitancy among some parents to have their children vaccinated, but Fenstersheib noted that "the risk of infection is real" and can be significant. Nationally, 1.9 million children have been infected by the virus; more than 8,300 have been hospitalized and one-third of those hospitalizations resulted in children being in the intensive-care unit.

More than 2,500 children have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a serious complication that can cause fever, rash and inflammation and swelling of body organs. Contrary to the idea that only children with underlying medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and obesity develop complications, most of the hospitalized children had no underlying health conditions, he added.

In addition, the number of cases of "long COVID," a constellation of symptoms that can last for months or years, isn't known among the 5- to-11 age group, but the risk can be significant. No one knows what impacts long-term COVID symptoms will have on the brain, lungs, heart, cognition and other factors over time, experts from Stanford Hospital and UCSF said on Tuesday during a special meeting of the county's Health and Hospital Committee.

"It's definitely a benefit to get the vaccination for the children because the risks of the disease are much worse than the vaccine's side effects," Fenstersheib added

Currently, 73% of the county's total population has been vaccinated. To reach 80%, the goal at which the county would relax the indoor mask ordinance, 55% of the children ages 5 to 11 would need to be vaccinated, Fenstersheib said.

He urged parents who are hesitant to have their children vaccinated to discuss their concerns with their health care provider.

Getting the vaccines won't immediately lead to children taking their masks off in schools, however, he said.

"Just because we're getting these kids vaccinated doesn't mean they're all going to take off their masks at this point. This is just another layer" of safety, he said.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases has declined in recent weeks, the curve is now flattening, he noted. It's too soon to predict if there will be another winter surge of infections as people spend more time indoors and gather for holidays.

The key to keeping a surge at bay continues to be vigilance, practicing social distancing and good sanitation, wearing masks and getting vaccinated, he said. The more people who are vaccinated, the better the chances will be of keeping a winter surge down, he added.

"Everyone do their part and get your kids vaccinated," he said.

Email Staff Writer Sue Dremann at [email protected]

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