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Vaccines for children 5–12 who seem to be more vulnerable to the delta variant than earlier iterations of COVID-19 might come in the fall. Good news, but vaccines alone—for all age groups—represent only one layer of mitigation, some experts argue.
Yes, they’re effective—very effective—but for how long? Yes, getting them will most likely ward off severe COVID-19 that results in hospitalization and/or death. But, again, for how long? Yes, there are booster shots coming for some Americans starting on September 20. How effective will they be? How long before another booster shot will be needed? Can the pharmaceutical industry’s capability to create vaccines and booster shots against SARS-CoV-2 match the coronavirus’s ability to mutate to stay alive and infective?
And perhaps the most important question of all these days as schools gear up to reopen: How safe will our children be? There’s still no vaccine for children 5–12.
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that 127,427 children were infected by COVID-19 from August 5 to August 12, representing an 18% increase in weekly reported cases for children. (The definition of “child” varies from state to state. But all the 49 states reporting start at 0; it’s the higher end cutoff that varies. It can be anywhere from 14 years old to 20.) Children represent 14.4% of all cases in the pandemic up until this point.
“At this time, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon among children,” the AAP states in a press release about the study. “However, there is an urgent need to collect more data on longer-term impacts of the pandemic on children, including ways the virus may harm the long-term physical health of infected children, as well as its emotional and mental health effects.”
The delta variant (B.1.617.2) that’s caused this fourth COVID-19 surge hits younger people harder than the so-called wild-type variant (D614G) that had the United States reeling this time last year.
UC Davis health notes that “physicians are seeing people getting sicker quicker, especially for younger people. Recent research found that the Delta variant grows more rapidly—and, to much greater levels—in the respiratory tract.”
Anthony Fauci, MD, President Biden’s chief medical advisor, told NPR yesterday that a vaccine for children 5–12 could come as early as mid to late fall although, as Fauci added, public health officials won’t be able to definitively pick an exact launch date for such a vaccine for perhaps some time. Fauci told NPR that “I’m talking about the data that will be presented to the FDA. The decision about the relative risk benefit of safety and efficacy is going to be a regulatory decision. So even though I’m telling you that the data will be available at the time we get to mid and late fall, it may be that when the FDA looks at the data, they may feel they want a little bit more time for safety.”
Fauci applauds the granting of full approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine yesterday by the US Food and Drug Administration, seeing it as a way to mitigate vaccine hesitancy, which exists not only among the public, but among health care professionals as well.
Fauci said that “I think [full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is] going to have a major impact…. There are those individuals who understandably, in some respects, don’t want to get vaccinated until they get the full stamp of approval…. I believe that those people will now step forward and get vaccinated.”
Fauci also hopes that the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will also embolden private and public employers to make employment contingent on getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act “does not interfere with employers following recommendations by the CDC or other public health authorities regarding whether, when, and for whom testing or other screening is appropriate.”
Are vaccines alone enough to defeat the pandemic and get us back to normal? Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board, answers with an emphatic “no.” He and other experts have told ICT® that vaccines and boosters should be seen as just one layer of protection, and for vaccines to work, everybody must get vaccinated.
It can be done, Kavanagh says. A good example is smallpox, which has been eradicated from the face of the earth thanks to vaccines. But people everywhere need to start wearing N95 respirators as well, says Kavanagh. The surgical cloth masks that proved somewhat effective against the wild type COVID, will not offer protection against the delta variant.
Still, it will be an uphill battle if the number of Americans who get the influenza vaccine every year is any indication, according to data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With COVID-19 breakthrough infections and questions about the efficacy of vaccines and even boosters, COVID-19 testing will come to play a more crucial role in the COVID-19 battle.
That’s what happened during a recent outbreak of the delta variant in China. As Fortune magazine reported yesterday, “China took testing to an unprecedented level during this go-round. Local authorities checked their populations repeatedly, a dozen times in one city alone, to ensure every last infection was caught. In all, more than 100 million tests were administered.”
China also initiated strict quarantines. “The Chinese capital of Beijing at one point was sealed off from other places with even a single case. It also cut off trains and flights from hotspots around the country, even though the city ultimately posted fewer than 10 infections in the delta flareup.”