WESTFIELD PUBLIC HEALTH WEEKLY BULLETIN
By Juanita Carnes FNP, Board of Health chair
Best news ever this week! I am overjoyed, as is my 9-year-old grandson, that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been approved by the FDA for his age group. I have been living in fear of him getting COVID since the beginning. Luckily, he is surrounded by vaccinated adults in his world. My anxiety increased when he went back to school in the fall to a congregate setting with lots of other unvaccinated individuals. An elementary school is one big Petri dish. He reports that his school is following guidelines. But public health guidelines alone are not enough. I am not only relieved for my grandson but my hope and joy of this approval extends globally. Vaccines administered to this age group will help the United States get closer to herd immunity and save lives.
Worst news this week! Westfield’s cases have continued to rise for the third straight week. There are 86 new confirmed cases (76 percent of them unvaccinated) and one death for this week. Fifteen new cases in children up to 11 years, and three new cases in children 12-17 years. Getting this age group of 28 million children vaccinated will help. But as long as vaccine hesitancy continues, this pandemic is not going to end. Presently, the U.S. is at 57.4 percent fully vaccinated.
Other sad and frightening news this month is that 140,000 children have lost a parent or grandparent who is their primary caregiver due to COVID-19. COVID is the eighth highest killer of children. 1.8 million children have been infected, and many will suffer long-term effects. One hundred forty-three children have died.
The reality of getting 28 million children vaccinated is that the parents that aren’t vaccinated are not likely to get their children vaccinated. And even some vaccinated parents have fears of getting their children vaccinated. Parents believe they must protect their children at all costs. They need knowledge to do this. This vaccine is the most tested vaccine ever, and is safe. Pediatric providers’ role is huge in this vaccine rollout. Conversations with trusted professionals will help dispel social media misinformation and educate parents with the risks and benefits of the vaccine.
Getting the 5-11 age group vaccinated will help in many ways. Obviously it protects the individual child. It also protects their classmates, school staff, the family they go home to and their community. It will bring back normalcy to their lives. The risk of COVID-19 complications in children far outweigh the risks of the vaccine. It will also help stop emerging variants. The vaccine will be one-third of the dose given to adults and teens, consisting of two doses three weeks apart. The vials are different colors than the adult dose, to avoid any mixup of doses.
Studies show it to be 90 percent effective. Side effects are similar to adults, with injection site pain, fatigue and headache. No serious side effects occurred. Myocarditis has been a concern in a very small percentage of the 12-17 age group. The FDA reviewed the data. The vaccine was given to several thousand children ages 5-11 and they found no cases of myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation of the heart). Researchers are still following this closely. Myocarditis is a complication of the COVID-19 infection in children and is more severe with infection than vaccine. Moderna is researching and seeking approval for this age group, also.
In general, side effects of vaccines are far better tolerated by children than by adults. The side effects of the vaccine are likely to be less harmful than the disruption of lives and schooling they have already suffered. Potentially, vaccine in this large age group could be the boost needed to turn this pandemic in the right direction. We have thought that before, and look where we are today. This just means we are learning as this pandemic continues. We all have to be dedicated to the truth and science of the extensive research done. The statistics prove the results of following recommendations by the experts in public health.
Find some joy in the little things. When I told my grandson the vaccine was approved by the FDA, he shouted out, “Yay, I am going to be immune to COVID!” Together, we excitedly await the CDC approval early next week. The White House reports that orders have already been submitted for the vaccine. Shipment will begin immediately and vaccination could begin next week. I am certain that every child and every parent would love nothing more than to return to a more normal life.
We implore you to get vaccinated and encourage others to get vaccinated. Get your booster or third vaccine. Get your children vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. Wear your mask in public, use hand sanitizer and socially distance. Spread truth and knowledge, not the virus.
Take care of yourself and someone else.
Dedicated health department members have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, as well as Board of Health members Juanita Carnes, FNP, Margaret Doody, and Stan Strzempko, M.D.
We keep working to keep you safe.