COVID vaccines for young children: Ohio prepares ahead of FDA review of new age group

With the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set to review a COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5, Ohio is reaching out to health care providers in preparation.

“The Ohio Department of Health is working with more than 3,800 vaccine providers across the state to prepare to vaccinated this youngest group of our children to date once those vaccines are available,” said ODH Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff.

The FDA’s advisory committee is starting to prepare the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness for children 6 months to 5 years old, and if the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give their approval, the vaccine could be available in weeks.

“We anticipate there will be robust conversation among the nation’s top experts on immunization when they meet over the next several weeks,” Vanderhoff said.

Children are less likely than adults to have severe illness from coronavirus, but they still are at risk, said Dr. Sara Bode, a primary care pediatrician and medical director of Care Connection school-based health and mobile clinics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

During the omicron surge, children’s hospitals across the state reported an increase in patients being hospitalized with the virus.

In November, Dayton Children’s Hospital reported fewer than 15 children hospitalized with COVID each week. In January, the hospital reported as many as 68 COVID inpatients in one week.

Though people who are vaccinated against COVID can still get breakthrough infections, Bode said those with mild cases are also less likely to transmit the virus.

“This is about protecting your child as well as your extended family at the same time,” she said.

Though hospitalizations and cases are declining, Vanderhoff said Ohioans cannot let their guard down yet. He urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted.

After COVID cases and hospitalizations reached record levels in Ohio in January, the state has seen a decline over the past few weeks. In the last week, hospitalizations statewide decreased by 20%, according to the Ohio Hospital Association.

The OHA reported a 52% decrease in hospitalized patients with coronavirus and a 51% decrease in the virus in ICU patients over the last three weeks.

West central Ohio, which includes Champaign, Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble and Shelby counties, and southwest Ohio, which includes Butler, Warren, Clinton, Hamilton, Clermont, Adams and Brown counties, have seen a similar decrease, but at a slower rate.

Compared to three weeks ago COVID inpatients have decreased 42% in west central Ohio and dropped 43% in southwest Ohio, according for OHA. During the same period ICU patients with coronavirus have decreased by 57% in west central Ohio and dropped 33% in southwest Ohio.

As Ohio continues to see a decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, hundreds of Ohio National Guard members deployed to help hospitals deal with an increase in patients are starting to return home.

At the peak of the omicron wave, there were approximately 2,000 guard members deployed at 62 hospitals and 18 testing sites across the state, Vanderhoff said. As of Tuesday, there were about 1,200 Ohio National Guard members at 28 hospitals and 13 testing centers.

“This has been an extraordinary intervention and one that’s made a big difference for so many hospitals and the communities they serve,” Vanderhoff said.

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