Arapahoe County and Tri County Health hold town hall on pediatric vaccine

BY FREDA MIKLIN
STAFF WRITER

On November 10, Arapahoe County, in partnership with Tri-County Health Department (TCHD), held a town hall on the state of the COVID-19 virus in this area and the availability of the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged five to 11. 

As of November 15, according to TCHD, the intensive care units (ICUs) in Arapahoe County hospitals are 99.4% occupied and Arapahoe County Hospitals overall are 99.2% occupied. In Douglas County, ICUs are 96.1% full and hospitals overall are 93% full. In Adams County, those numbers are 94.5% for ICUs and 97.3% for hospitals overall.

According to Dr. John Douglas, TCHD’s executive director, “What appears to be going on is that we have the most COVID patients hospitalized since just before Christmas 2020. Most are unvaccinated, but there are some breakthrough cases, especially in older folks. Another reason is regular activity leading to heart attacks, appendicitis’, etc. We are also seeing folks who didn’t get adequate preventative care last year and many who deferred testing and treatment. Besides that, we have fewer medical staff members than we did a year ago. Nurses and respiratory therapists are burned out and there are fewer of them available.” He continued, “The bright side of the situation is the available vaccines which have been an extraordinary game changer. If people get vaccinated who haven’t and those who have get a booster, it will be very helpful. In addition, people should wear masks in indoor settings. If you do get COVID-19, get the monoclonal antibody treatment. Also, please get a flu shot.”

Dr. Bernadette Albanese, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who is a medical epidemiologist with TCHD, talked about the recently approved Pfizer vaccine for children ages five to 11 to protect against COVID-19. She said, “This is not a new vaccine. 500 million doses have been given in the U.S. alone. We have lots of information about how well they work to prevent severe illness and hospitalization from COVID-19. The Delta Variant has been a challenge. It has taken over the U.S. and the world and is much more contagious than the original virus. It is now affecting children five to 11 years of age. The vaccine is an MRNA vaccine from Pfizer. It is the same as the one that has been used in adolescents and adults. The dose has been adjusted to be appropriate for five-to-11-year-olds. The pediatric formulation has an appropriately studied lower dose than what is used in teens and adults to produce a good immune response in the children. Children need to get two doses three weeks apart, just as do adolescents and adults. Two weeks after the second dose they are considered to be effectively protected. The most common side effect seen is a sore arm, followed by short-lived tiredness and headache. There were no other significant side effects seen.” 

In response to questions from callers, the medical experts, including Drs. Douglas and Albanese and Caitlin Silverstein, registered nurse with TCHD, said:

  • The pediatric vaccine is available through many pediatricians. That is where parents should check first. Local pharmacies, such as Walgreens, will also have the vaccine. TCHD vaccination clinics will also have it, as will Children’s Hospital. Like all other COVID-19 vaccines, it is completely free of charge.
  • If new variants begin to emerge in the U.S., the vaccine manufacturers will immediately test their vaccines’ ability to offer protection from it.
  • Children, like adults, can get a COVID-19 vaccine during the same visit as a flu shot.
  • Myocarditis has not been seen in any of the several thousand children who were a part of the study for this vaccine. It is a known side effect that has been seen very, very rarely in older teens and adults.  Out of 1,000,000 doses given, it was seen in 50 to 100 older subjects, mostly all male. It is important to keep in mind that inflammation of the heart is more of a risk in children who get COVID-19 than any known risk of getting the vaccine.
  •  There is no recommendation for a booster shot at this time for either children or teens. Only adults are recommended to get the shot.
  • There are 27 children in Colorado hospitals diagnosed with COVID-19 at this time. Children do not get as sick as adults when they get COVID-19, but there have been almost 2 million cases, 8,300 hospitalizations, and 190 deaths from COVID-19 in children under 12 years old. The other risk, unusual but severe and unpredictable, is multi-inflammatory syndrome in children after they get the COVID-19 virus. One-third of those who got this had no underlying condition. Of those who got it that had underlying conditions, a common underlying condition was obesity.
  • Children who should possibly not be vaccinated are those who are allergic to the vaccine or an ingredient in it. Conversely, those with other health conditions are generally at higher risk for the virus, so it is important that they get the vaccine.
  • There are no plans for school districts, TCHD, or the state to mandate getting vaccinated to attend school. The vaccine does not yet have full licensure. That will probably not happen for a year. 
  • Vaccinated people who get breakthrough cases are less likely to contaminate others. 
  • The study of the pediatric vaccine included approximately 3,000 children and is ongoing. That is a pretty average size for pediatric clinical trials. This data has been added to all the data from the adult clinical trials. There are other systems set up to rapidly evaluate data that comes into the CDC to ensure safety.  If anything concerning comes up, it is quickly vetted to see if there is a pattern of concern. 

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