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California plans ambitious effort to immunize young children

California health officials said on Wednesday they were ready to do anything to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11 against COVID-19 as the country nears eligibility clearance for this group of age.

While there are still a number of federal and state hoops to go through, officials said they were preparing to deliver doses to the estimated 3.5 million children in the state’s age range. by the end of next week, as the critical vacation period approaches.

“The more vaccines we get into the arms of eligible Californians, the more we stop the spread and reduce the number of people vulnerable to COVID-19. This will bring us closer to the end of the pandemic, ”said state epidemiologist Dr Erica Pan. “Our youngest children have remained vulnerable to the highly contagious virus as older Californians have received their vaccine. Now, the time has come to protect them.

Although the first part of the vaccination rollout was marred by scarcity of supplies and long lines, officials said they expected to have sufficient doses and sufficient capacity to cope. to increased demand.

Pan, who is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and parent, said California will have more than 1.2 million doses in the first week after young children become eligible.

In comparison, an average of only around 77,000 doses were dispensed daily over the past week.

And although California already has a network of thousands of vaccination sites, officials said they are looking to work with schools to establish more locations on campus – not only for newly eligible children, but for parents who might be looking for a convenient site to receive their own photos.

On Tuesday, a Food and Drug Administration advisory group voted in favor of pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The benefits of preventing COVID-19 in this age group outweighed the potential risks, such as myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart – which was rare in adolescents and young adults, the panel said.

In fact, a clinical trial for children aged 5 to 11 found no reports of post-vaccination myocarditis, according to data presented to the FDA. Monitoring will continue to determine if rare cases of myocarditis will eventually develop.

Some experts have expressed optimism that the lower dose for children aged 5 to 11 will reduce the risk of side effects like myocarditis. The dose for these children, 10 micrograms, is one-third of that given to people 12 years of age and older.

The FDA is expected to make its own decision in the coming days. If that agency approves, the matter will then be referred to an advisory committee of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for review.

The advisory committee plans to meet on November 2-3. After the panel makes a recommendation, the case will go to CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who will make a final clinical recommendation on who should get the vaccine.

In California, the shots will not begin to enter the arms of young people until the completion of an additional review by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, a coalition of public health experts from California, Nevada, and the United States. Oregon and Washington. This examination may take an additional day.

Even so, it’s possible that children between the ages of 5 and 11 could receive their first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of next week.

“These young heroes want to participate fully in life again. As the gatherings and holiday festivities approach, the vaccine clearance couldn’t come at a better time, ”said Pan.

As with people 12 years of age and older, the vaccine for this younger age group will be given in two parts, with the second dose recommended by the manufacturer to be given three weeks after the first.

The Pfizer-BioNTech shot has already been fully approved for people 16 years of age or older and is cleared for use in children 12 to 15 years of age in an emergency.

Health officials have long argued that immunizing children is key to finally bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to its knees.

According to officials, vaccinating young people will not only help prevent them from being affected by the disease. This will prevent them from unintentionally spreading it to other more vulnerable residents – or incubating potentially dangerous coronavirus mutations.

“Fully immunized children will be better protected in schools, youth activities, holiday gatherings and celebrations, and homes,” Los Angeles County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said in a statement. .

Once the CDC gives final approval, the county will use its network of providers to immunize young children, she said.

The potential new front in the inoculation campaign comes as California continues to grapple with the remnants of the latest wave of coronavirus, fueled by the highly infectious Delta variant.

At the height of the wave, California was confirming an average of nearly 15,000 new infections daily, and more than 8,300 COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized statewide.

While both of these metrics have declined significantly in recent months, they remain stubbornly high. Over the past week, the state has reported an average of 5,560 new coronavirus cases per day – down just about 5% from two weeks ago, according to data compiled by The Times.

The number of coronavirus-positive patients hospitalized, 3,827 on Tuesday, is largely stable from two weeks ago and increased slightly over the past week.

On average, more than 100 Californians still die from COVID-19 every day.

However, officials continue to stress that it is the unvaccinated residents who continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic. Unvaccinated Californians are about 6.6 times more likely to be infected, 12 times more likely to be hospitalized and 18 times more likely to die than their vaccinated counterparts, according to Dr Mark Ghaly, Secretary of State for Health and social services.

“We enter the coming weeks confident in the state of progress of vaccines and their ultimate protection for so many, but cautious and vigilant with our vigilance,” he said.

While children are, overall, much less likely than adults to experience the worst health effects from COVID-19, the disease is not harmless to young people.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in August and September, COVID-19 became the seventh leading cause of death among youngest children, aged 1 to 4; the sixth leading cause of death among 5 to 14 year olds; and the fourth leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds.

The risk of dying from COVID-19 in children may be low but remains a leading cause of death because children do not die very often, said Dr Monica Gandhi, infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco.

But in the latest wave of coronavirus, she said, “children have had a lot of cases, and there have been more child hospitalizations than we’ve ever seen before” in places across the country with low adult immunization rates.

Nationally, 763 children under the age of 18 have died from COVID-19, according to the CDC.

In California, 37 children have died from COVID-19, according to the State Department of Public Health.

“It’s kind of like, what if you have a totally safe vaccine,” Gandhi said, and a child “never gets cancer? “

As of mid-October, more than 6 million children in the United States had been infected with the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, with 1 million of these cases recorded in the past six weeks alone.

“There have been more than 35 pediatric deaths [from COVID-19] in California alone, and that’s more deaths than we see with the flu during a really bad flu season, ”said Pan. “There is simply not an acceptable number of child deaths when such effective and safe prevention is available. “

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