MDHHS: Get your kids vaccinated soon

MARQUETTE — More than than 87,000, or 10.5%, of Michigan children ages 5 to 11 have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is urging parents and caregivers to get their children vaccinated before the holidays.

“We know these vaccines work and protect our children and their families,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, MDHHS chief medical executive, in a statement. “Even healthy children can suffer serious affects from COVID-19. Being able to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 with the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine as we go into the holidays can help protect family members and friends of all ages as we gather to celebrate.”

Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 pediatric vaccine received emergency use authorization for this age group from the FDA and was recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Nov. 2, MDHHS said.

About 825,000 Michigan children are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Based on data provided by Pfizer, the vaccine was shown to be nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic disease from COVID-19 in this age group, MDHHS said. The pediatric formulation of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered as a series of two doses, 21 days apart, at one-third the amount of the adult dosage.

MDHHS stressed that with more than 4,000 vaccine providers across Michigan, including family physicians and pediatricians, urgent care centers, local health departments, federally qualified health centers and pharmacies, there are plenty of providers and vaccines available for eligible children. Parents and caregivers can find a vaccine by visiting Vaccines.gov or by calling 211.

In Michigan, there have been more than 230,000 confirmed COVID cases in those age 19 and younger, and 29 deaths have been reported as of Monday, MDDHS reported.

Data from the FDA and CDC show that children 5 to 11 years of age account for approximately 9% of COVID-19 cases in the United States overall, and approximately 40% of pediatric cases. COVID-19 has infected 1.9 million children ages 5 to 11 nationwide and hospitalized 8,300. About one-third of hospitalized children required treatment in the intensive care unit. To date, 146 children have died, and more than 5,000 have developed multisystem inflammatory disorder.

Questions answered at town hall

To answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, MDHHS held a virtual town hall on Thursday that featured pediatricians addressing the topic.

Dr. Elizabeth Lloyd, pediatric infectious diseases physician with the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said that based on recent data from MDDHS, there has been an average of about 7,000 to 8,000 new COVID cases per day in Michigan.

Michigan cases have continued to rise, she noted.

“My concern is that this may continue as we sort of get into the winter with people indoors and gathering for the holidays,” Lloyd said.

She noted other viruses such as the flu virus have started circulating.

“This doesn’t mean that the vaccines are not working,” Lloyd said. “No vaccine is 100% effective, but what’s really important is that these vaccines are extremely, extremely protective against severe disease requiring hospitalization, and death.

“Far and away, and the vast majority of patients who are needing to be hospitalized, who are needing to be in the ICU and who ultimately end up dying of COVID, are unvaccinated.”

The takeaway, she stressed, is that it’s even more important to get vaccinated now.

Lloyd acknowledged that children are at a lower risk for severe COVID-19 and hospitalization compared with adults.

However, she added, “There’s a big difference between lower risk and no risk.”

Not only are youngsters suffering from COVID-19 and the multisystem inflammatory disorder, they are suffering from long-term COVID symptoms as well, she said.

Lloyd said the benefits of being vaccinated are, first and foremost, a “significantly decreased” risk of illness, specifically illness that would result in hospitalization or being admitted to the intensive care unit, multisystem inflammatory disorder, long-term symptoms or death.

“This pandemic has also affected children in a lot of indirect ways with the disruption of school and disruption of daily activities,” Lloyd said. “These things are very important for children as they learn and grow and develop, and potentially being vaccinated could lead to less of these disruptions in their daily lives, and the lives of family.”

The most common side effect from a vaccine seen in the clinical trials for the 5-11 age group is pain in the injection site.

“You can get that with any vaccine,” said Lloyd, who noted side effects typically are resolved in a day or two.

Dr. Lynn C. Smitherman, pediatrician with Wayne Pediatrics and Detroit Medical Center Children’s Hospital of Michigan, discussed mRNA vaccines, which according to the CDC are newly available to the public, although researchers have been studying and working with them for decades. The CDC said the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines.

“The nice thing about using mRNA technology is the fact that they were able to use this technology to make a vaccine in a more rapid rate than they would if we would have done it the old-fashioned way,” Smitherman said.

The mRNA technology, she noted, helps a person’s body make antibodies to spiked proteins so that when an infection occurs, the body already is “primed and ready” to fight it instead of waiting to build up immunity.

Smitherman recommends that children who already tested positive for COVID-19 receive a vaccination, but they should wait 90 days or three months after the positive result.

“Unlike some of the viruses, once you get it, there’s no data that says you can’t get it again,” Smitherman said.

There also is the belief, she said, that people who are vaccinated have a reduced risk of contracting “long COVID,” which carries long-term effects.

Dr. Joseph Fakhoury, pediatric hospitalist with Bronson Pediatric Medicine Hospital Specialists and chairman of the Immunization Task Force of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said this is a “unique” time for vaccines.

He urged children be vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible, noting that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine authorized for ages 5 to 11 is “extremely safe” with little risk of significant side effects.

“We do know that it’s extremely effective at preventing significant and severe illness and disease,” Fakhoury said.

He also pointed out that vaccine doses are based on age.

“We have found that it’s almost as effective if not exactly as effective as the dose for the adults,” Fakhoury said, “and so, at this stage, we focus more on age rather than size and weight, which is very different than what we typically do in pediatrics.”

That usual procedure, he said, is to adjust doses based on weight.

Veronica McNally, president of the Franny Strong Foundation and founder of the I Vaccinate campaign, said that many people are wondering about the availability for vaccines for youngsters under age 5.

“There are indeed clinical trials ongoing for that age group, beginning at 6 months and older,” McNally said. “We don’t know yet when all that data will be finalized, but as soon as it’s finalized, we know that a lot of interested people will be reporting on it, and what I want the parents to know is that that process for that age group will follow the same path that all of the other vaccines follow.”


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