COVID-19 vaccine in works for children under 5

Daycare center cases swelling, says health officer

Exposures and outbreaks of COVID at daycare centers have contributed to the rise in cases across the North Olympic Peninsula, according to the region’s health officer, who is hopeful that a vaccine for children under 5 could be available soon.

“Many of our cases in the last week have been related to daycares,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health office for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

“This was not unanticipated,” she continued.

“You know, small children gather indoors without masks on and basically what we have seen was first the peak among adults and now we’re seeing their children get infected and spread in the daycare setting,” Berry said.

In January, 38 percent of new cases in the two counties on the Peninsula were diagnosed in children under 5, she said.

She did not have exact figures for the last week, she added.

Over the course of the COVID pandemic, more than 330 cases — collected from both Clallam and Jefferson counties — were diagnosed in children under 5 years old, she said.

Clallam County has 73 new COVID cases, raising its total to 9,646 with a case rate of 1,732 per 100,000 population while, Jefferson County has 27 new cases, bringing its total to 2, 643. Its case rate, now at 1,236 per 100,000, is updated each Friday.

As of Tuesday, 14 Clallam County residents were in the hospital due to COVID. Of those, seven were in the intensive care, three at Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles and four in hospitals out of the county.

Four Jefferson County residents were in the hospitalized for COVID. Two were in intensive care, one at Jefferson Healthcare in Port Townsend and the other out of the county.

No new deaths from the virus were reported Tuesday in either county. Clallam County has had 95 deaths over the course of the pandemic while Jefferson County reports 23.

The nation’s 19 million children under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus.

But one could be available by March.

Pfizer on Tuesday asked the U.S. to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, potentially opening the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots as early as March, Associated Press (AP) reported.

In an extraordinary move, the Food and Drug Administration had urged Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to apply earlier than the companies had planned — and before it’s settled if the youngsters will need two shots or three — due to omicron’s “greater toll on children,” an agency spokeswoman told AP.

“We have not seen that data yet, but reports are that they are seeing good efficacy with two shots for kids 6 months to 2 years old, and potentially needing a third dose for kids 2- 5 years,” Berry said.

According to a Monday report from the state Department of Health, at least 226,000 children 5-11 years old had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while at least 173,0000 children between 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated.

Berry anticipates that locally, some parents will be reluctant to have their younger children vaccinated while others have eagerly awaited the vaccine.

“I think it will be a mix,” she said. “I think there will be a lot of hesitancy like we have seen before, but I think there are also a lot of parents with kids in this age group that have been really wanting to see their kids vaccinated.

”We are hopeful about getting access to a vaccine for these kids because right now those are the kids most at risk for hospitalization,”Berry said.

Pfizer aims to give children as young as 6 months shots that contain one-tenth of the dose given to adults, AP reported.

An open question is how many shots children will need. Two of the extra-low doses turned out to be strong enough for babies but not for preschoolers in early testing. Pfizer now is testing a third shot, data that’s expected in late March.

That means the FDA may consider whether to authorize two shots for now, with potentially a third shot being cleared later if the study supports it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has to sign off.

The FDA said it will convene a panel of independent researchers and physicians in mid-February to help review the Pfizer data. The agency isn’t required to follow their advice, but the input is a key step in publicly vetting vaccine safety and effectiveness.

The Biden administration has been trying to speed the authorization of COVID-19 shots for children, contending vaccinations are critical for opening schools and day care centers and keeping them open, and for freeing up parents from child care duties so they can go back to work.

Young children are far less likely than adults to get severely ill from the coronavirus, but it can happen, and nationwide pediatric COVID-19 infections are higher than at any other point in the pandemic.

________

Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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