Area toddlers, infants and preschoolers could begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations next week in the wake of Friday’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of vaccinations for children six months to five years of age.
The FDA gave the nod to both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for children and the Centers for Disease Control is reviewing information this weekend. That means shots could be given to pediatric patients sometime next week.
“Many parents, caregivers and clinicians have been waiting for a vaccine for younger children and this action will help protect those down to 6 months of age,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf in a prepared statement. “As we have seen with older age groups, we expect that the vaccines for younger children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of COVID-19, such as hospitalization and death.
Califf said the vaccines were carefully evaluated and tested.
“Those trusted with the care of children can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of these COVID-19 vaccines and can be assured that the agency was thorough in its evaluation of the data,” he said.
Dr. Debbie-Ann Shirley, of the University of Virginia Medical Center, said CDC approval could mean that vaccines will be sent out either Sunday or Monday. She hopes the medical center can start putting vaccines into the little patients sometime next week or soon after.
“We’re working hard to be able to provide the vaccinations as quickly as possible,” she said during a medical virtual press conference.
Shirley said working with pediatric patients is different than working with adults, including where tiny patients receive their shots. That means most vaccinations likely will be administered in pediatrician offices and clinics.
“For younger patients, they often receive their vaccinations in their thighs rather than the deltoid muscles like adults and because there is a difference in how they receive their vaccines, pharmacies may not be able to participate as much as they did for adults,” she said.
Pfizer vaccines will require three doses with the first two doses three weeks apart and the third following eight weeks after the second, Shirley said. Moderna vaccines will require two doses four weeks apart.
“It’s remarkable how quickly we’ve been able to administer a vaccine to this population. It’s really extraordinary,” she said, noting that vaccines often take years to develop and test. “Within a year of [the pandemic’s start], we had a vaccine for adults and in 18 months after that, for this age group.”
UVa Medical Center officials said that while young children often have mild symptoms of COVID, that is not always the case. Currently, UVa has four pediatric patients in the medical center with COVID symptoms, including two in intensive care.
The hospital currently has 27 patients, 21 in the adult care unit and one adult in intensive care.
“We’re seeing some bouncing around the baseline, but overall, I’d say we’re pretty stable in the number of patients we have in the units,” said Dr. Reid Adams, chief medical officer for the hospital.
COVID isn’t the only infectious disease about which medical center officials are concerned, however. Just when it seemed like the world had a handle on the pandemic, nature threw a monkeypox in the works.
The CDC is investigating cases of the relatively rare infection recently found in the U.S. and in Europe. The pox is normally found in central or west African countries. Only one case has been diagnosed in Virginia with some cases in Washington, D.C. and Maryland being reported.
About 100 cases have been reported across the country and 1,900 across the world, outside of Africa.
According to the CDC, the symptoms of monkeypox are similar to but milder than the symptoms of smallpox. It begins with fever, headache, muscle aches, and exhaustion, swollen lymph nodes and a rash.
The incubation period (time from infection to symptoms) for monkeypox is usually 7−14 days but can range from 5−21 days. The rash usually develops within a week and can last two to four weeks.
“People usually become infected with the monkeypox virus through contact with the skin lesions or bodily fluids of infected animals or humans, alive or dead,” CDC officials said on the centers’ website. “[That includes] respiratory droplets or through contact with materials contaminated with the virus [including clothing].”
Dr. Costi Sifri, head of epidemiology at UVa Medical Center, said there is not yet a pox upon the region but investigators have discovered that the recent variant indicates the infection has been moving through the world’s population for some time.
“We can see there was transmission that was not recognized because people weren’t looking for monkeypox as a cause of illness in people presenting with a rash,” Sifri said. “As this is more on people’s minds, we are finding more cases.”
Sifri said genetic hindsight shows enough variants of the pox to indicate it has been circulating since 2018 and came out of Africa, before mutating into the variant currently making its way through Europe and the U.S..
“It suggests it has been going on at a lower level of infection for some period of time,” he said. “These viruses and emerging infections do not respect a country’s borders.”
Sifri said monkeypox is a reminder that the world’s medical community needs to pay attention to new and reemerging diseases.
“If we’re proactive and doing the work of being aware of what’s going on around the globe, we’d be in better position to intercede and prevent these types of events.”