State readies for rollout of COVID vaccine for youngest children

COVID-19 vaccines could be available as soon as next week for infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

“Developing and providing effective vaccines had been a cornerstone of the effort to protect us against this virus,” Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said during a Thursday media briefing. “The one group that has still been waiting has been our youngest children, those less than 5 years of age, and now that appears likely to change.”

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna for children 6 months and up, and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s advisory committee is expected to make recommendations on Saturday.

There are about 700,000 children in Ohio younger than 5 who will be eligible for the new vaccines, with the first deliveries expected Monday, Vanderhoff said.

The Pfizer vaccine is a three-shot series for 6 months through 4 years. Each dose is one-tenth the adult dose. The first two doses are three weeks apart and the final dose is given two months after the second.

Moderna’s vaccine is a two-shot series for ages 6 months through 5 years. Each dose is one-quarter the adult dose and is given four weeks apart.

“With respect to safety, both vaccines basically demonstrated the same side effects that we’ve come to expect and anticipated with older children and adults,” said Dr. Grant Paulsen, a pediatrician in the infectious disease division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center who joined Vanderhoff for the briefing.

Paulsen, the site principal investigator for trials involving both vaccines, said the most common side effect is mild to moderate pain at the injection site as well as fatigue, irritability, headache for some and a fever for a small number of children involved in the study.

While some parents have been eagerly awaiting approval, vaccine hesitancy among some parents is anticipated. According to Ohio Department of Health data, about 27% of Ohio children age 5-11 have received at least one dose, compared with about 50% of those age 12-17, and 73% of those over 18.

This is why the focus has been with pediatricians to make sure a large number of them across the state signed up to receive the vaccines. Parents of young children are more comfortable with their personal doctors, Vanderhoff said.

“Every child that we are able to make the vaccine available for is one success,” he said. “It’s important to remember that our youngest children can still fall seriously ill with this virus.”

Compared to other age groups, the youngest children make up far fewer COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. However, there have still been about 2.5 million cases in babies and toddlers and nearly 450 deaths among those younger than 5 in the U.S.

“In Ohio, 79,000 cases have been reported in this age group, with about 1,500 hospitalizations and, tragically, 10 deaths,” Vanderhoff said.

When infants and toddlers do suffer a severe COVID infection, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children — a condition associated with COVID-19 where different body parts can become inflamed, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs — treatment options are limited, Paulsen said.

“We’re still seeing severe COVID,” said Dr. Michael Forbes of Akron Children’s Hospital, who also joined the ODH briefing. “For many of us our motto has been prevent what is preventable.”

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