COVID vaccines for young children could be approved soon. Are Gulf States prepared?

 1614102343 
1634909264
A vaccinator administers a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

A vaccinator administers a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

Phoebe Jones , WWNO

COVID-19 shots for children between the ages of 5-11 years old may soon become available after the White House said Wednesday that the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are poised to sign off on a two-dose Pfizer regiment in the coming weeks.

Some pediatricians across the Gulf States say the shot could be a game-changer for the region, which is already lagging behind the rest of the country in vaccination rates and has faced high levels of transmission.

How soon will shots be rolled out?

Pfizer studied the shot in over 2,000 children and found it to be safe and effective, with some side effects similar to those found in the adult population. If the trial results are approved by federal regulators, millions of shots will be shipped out to providers. The vaccine will be one-third the dose given to adults and be delivered in distinct packaging. The shots were administered 21 days apart in the Pfizer trial.

“It’s packaged differently. The whole color of the vial and the top of the vial is a little bit different. The dose is different. Everything is color-coded,” said Dr. Katherine Baumgarten, Ochsner Health director of infection control and prevention. “We want to make sure that we’re giving the proper dose to the proper aged child.”

The Louisiana Department of Health said in a memo Wednesday that providers are able to pre-order initial limited quantities of the vaccine. Baumgarten said the health system is getting ready for a wide distribution of the shot once it’s approved. Ochsner is still ironing out plans on how to deliver the shots, but it hopes to partner with as many groups as possible to do it.

“We know that there will probably be a lot of people at first that really want to get the vaccines as soon as they possibly can. So we’ll be partnering with whomever is willing to partner with us — schools, other entities,” Baumgarten said. “Of course we will be rolling it out to our vaccine sites and clinical settings and planning for that. But those are in the works.”

A game-changer for the Gulf South

Dr. John Gaudet, a Mississippi pediatrician and former president of the state’s American Academy of Pediatrics, said the shot could be a game-changer in the Gulf South, where 47% or less of the adult population is fully vaccinated in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

In these states, 39% or less of the teenage population between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. The U.S. rate for this age group is at 59%, according to the New York Times COVID-19 data tracker.

Gaudet said the recent surge in the delta variant also showed that kids are not entirely immune from COVID-19. Many of the hospitals across the Gulf South that were overwhelmed in cases also saw an increase in pediatric patients.

“Depending on your state, children are about a quarter to a fifth of the population,” Gaudet said. “You can’t achieve a high degree of immunity without immunizing children.”

The Challenges Ahead

Gaudet said it will take some time and convincing to get all kids vaccinated.

“Like anything else, there’s going to be a proportion of families who are just going to be a hard ‘No’ for this vaccine for their kids. And then there’s a percentage of families that are going to be lined up at the door on day one. It can be an uncomfortable discussion, and for some people, talking about [the] COVID vaccine is almost like it’s a hot button issue,” he said. “This is where your health care provider can come in and give you the best advice that’s available and then make a recommendation for your individual child because that person knows your child.”

The White House has called on pediatricians and children’s hospitals to play a key role in vaccinating children against COVID-19.

Dr. David Kimberlin, co-director of the pediatric division of infectious disease at Children’s of Alabama, said pediatricians’ help will be critical and thinks that the public health messaging and strategy around reaching adults will have to be different than how it’s been with adults.

“The focus should be very much centered on where their current medical home is and their pediatrician’s office,” Kimberlin said. “Parents across this country, across Alabama, across the southeast are very trusting of their pediatricians. Vaccines are right in our wheelhouse”

Rural areas in states like Alabama, however, may need extra efforts to push the shot out, Kimberlin said, noting that family practitioners, nurses working under the guidance of a pediatrician or family practice doctors might need to step in and help.

“Certainly there are many counties in Alabama that don’t have a single pediatrician in them,” Kimberlin said. “Our focus needs to be on the physicians taking care of the patients in those local communities. Especially in our part of the country where we do have access issues, we need to be creative in how we’re thinking about this.”

This story was produced by the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between Mississippi Public Broadcasting, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama, WWNO in New Orleans and NPR.

 

4 factors besides cold weather that explain expensive winter power bills

Like many in the Gulf South, Will Burt’s power bill spiked in January due to extreme weather. But how much of the increase can be attributed to the cold?

How an Alabama court ruling that frozen embryos are children could affect IVF

The Alabama Supreme Court recently ruled that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law, raising concerns about how the decision could affect in vitro fertilization, commonly known as IVF.

Alabama seeks to carry out second execution using controversial nitrogen gas method

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall's office asked the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to set an execution date for Alan Eugene Miller. The state said Miller’s execution would be carried out using nitrogen.

UAB puts pause on IVF in wake of ruling saying frozen embryos are children

The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system said in a statement that it must evaluate whether its patients or doctors could face criminal charges or punitive damages for undergoing IVF treatments.

‘Sick!’ New kids book by Alabama author explores how animals fight germs

A new children's book by Alabama author Heather Montgomery explores how animals fight off pathogens.

Alabama Supreme Court rules frozen embryos are ‘children’ under state law

The decision, issued in a pair of wrongful death cases brought by couples who had frozen embryos destroyed in an accident at a fertility clinic, brought a rush of warnings from advocates who said it would have sweeping implications for fertility treatments.

More Coronavirus Coverage