Health Officials Look Toward Child COVID-19 Vaccines

During his Monday afternoon press conference, Gov. Ralph Northam’s characteristically soft-spoken demeanor did not mask his frustrations with the unnecessary toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Northam said that a year after his own battle with COVID, he still cannot smell or taste anything. He pointed out that, even with the more dangerous Delta variant at large, almost everyone who has been infected with COVID-19 and virtually everyone who has died from the virus was unvaccinated. He pointed to the millions of people around the world who have been vaccinated, with serious side effects being rare. He presented a chart depicting $5 billion in costs to hospitalize unvaccinated adults since June. And, as a doctor, he spoke of the miserable experience of being put on a ventilator—like sticking a garden hose down your throat, he said—and lamented the strain being placed on the overworked staffs at hospitals.

“So if you know that, and you still don’t want the shot, then I hope you give some thought to how your family will remember you,” Northam said. “Give some thought to what they’ll do without you. Think about how you want your obituary to read, because you’re taking a foolish, dangerous chance, and it affects many more people than just you.”

He also looked ahead to vaccinations for younger children. Northam said he hopes those will be authorized in about six weeks, toward the end of October or beginning of November. And, he said, offering vaccinations in schools would be the easiest and most equitable way to offer shots to younger children.

In Loudoun, the Health Department has been coordinating with schools throughout the pandemic to see how best to get vaccines to students, said Loudoun County Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend.

“While there’s no plans that are completed yet, likely the first line for doing that will be to get the word out once it does become available to 5-11 year olds where they can get vaccinated, and get vaccinated quickly,” Goodfriend said. “And fortunately we have our Dulles Town Center, which can be ramped up to see a large number of kids in a very short amount of time.”

With that, he said, the Health Department would be able to see where there are lower vaccination rates, which he said will likely reflect today’s lower vaccination rates in Sterling and in western Loudoun. The Health Department could then make vaccination available in or around those schools for families who want it, to address concerns of equity and access to healthcare.

“Some jurisdictions, for example, they’ll routinely do flu vaccinations in schools for exactly that purpose,” Goodfriend said. “In Loudoun County, we don’t have a history of doing it because we’re somewhat different in access to care, but we do know where people so far tend to be under-vaccinated.”

That, too, could a backlash among a vocal minority. In Loudoun, anti-vaccine parents have swarmed School Board meetings in particular, with protests ranging from quoting erroneous statistics about the dangers of COVID-19 and the vaccines, to conspiracy theories about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other government agencies.

“This is my 11th grade daughter at Woodgrove High School. She has natural immunity. She doesn’t need your shot, she doesn’t need your testing, for sure,” Loudoun father Clayton Thomas said to the School Board on Sept. 26, speaking about their decision to require teachers and student athletes to get vaccinated. “This is the most unequitable decision yet, and so divisive. We all know the vaxxed still carry the virus, yet the unvaxxed have the natural antibodies to ward it off.”

Time and again, it has been those same unvaccinated people and their families who have paid the price for vaccine misinformation. While breakthrough cases in vaccinated people have grabbed the headlines, the vast majority of COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated people. In Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health, one-half of one percent of people who have been fully vaccinated have developed COVID-19. Among fully vaccinated people, 0.0054%—about one-half of one-hundredth of one percent—have died of COVID-19.

Meanwhile over the week ending Sept. 18, the most recent week for which numbers are available, unvaccinated people were 15.5 times more likely to develop COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people, and 36.7 times more likely to die from it.

An anticipated increase in demand when kids aged 5 to 11 become eligible this week prompted a renewed recruiting push for the volunteer Loudoun Medical Reserve Corps.

“Vaccination is critical to keeping our children safe and our schools open as we head into an expected winter surge in cases,” Goodfriend stated in a press release calling for volunteers. “Loudoun MRC volunteers who are comfortable vaccinating young children will be valuable partners to the county as we work to meet the demand for vaccination of those who are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through their pediatrician or local pharmacy.”

The corps is looking for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, licensed practical nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists and physicians with a current Virginia license who are comfortable vaccinating children as young as 5 years old.

“We encourage anyone with the prescribed medical training and some extra time to volunteer to sign up to support this important vaccination campaign to keep our children safe,” Loudoun Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator Francis Rath stated.

Hopeful News

But while the dire news dominated the governor’s press conference, Northam started with some hopeful signs. Since the middle of September, cases have started to trend downward for the first time since May. A few days after the case counts began their slide, hospitalizations also began dropping off.

And Northam said Virginia has the best vaccination rate in the South—71.6% of the adult population of the state is fully vaccinated, and 60.2% of the population overall is vaccinated, with children 11 and younger not yet eligible for vaccination.

In Loudoun County, the numbers are even better, with 76.2% of the adult population fully vaccinated, and 62.4% of the total population vaccinated. Those figures also do not include people who were vaccinated at federal facilities such as military bases.

And this was also the week that the Virginia Department of Health authorized local health districts to begin administering booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine for some people.

Booster shots are now available to people aged 65 years and older, residents of long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and people who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission because of occupational or institutional settings, such as health care workers and caregivers for frail or immunocompromised people.

For now, those recommendations do not include people who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and people who received those vaccines should not seek Pfizer booster shots. That could change as more data becomes available.

Visit vaccines.gov to find a vaccination site. To make a vaccine appointment at the county’s Dulles Town Center vaccination site, visitloudoun.gov/covid19vaccine. More information about the Loudoun Medical Reserve Corps, including an online volunteer registration form, is online at loudoun.gov/mrc.

2 thoughts on “Health Officials Look Toward Child COVID-19 Vaccines

  • 2021-09-30 at 3:38 pm
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    This recent development will go over like a lead balloon for some Loudouners. I’m reminded of the young boy who spoke at the Sept. 28 board meeting. He begged the school board not to pressure a Covid vaccine onto him or his classmates. I sympathize with parents who don’t want their young children subjected to the jab. Goodness, as if LCPS doesn’t have enough problems. Now this looms on the horizon. I just hope everyone handles it with as much dignity & compassion as possible.

  • 2021-10-01 at 3:52 pm
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    This will be a tipping point for many parents. As it should be. No reason to do this.

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