The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine available to children 12 and up in Flagler County, Health Department Director Bob Snyder said Wednesday, hours before the Centers for Disease Control director adopted an advisory committee’s recommendation to clear the way for vaccinating adolescents.
The Pfizer vaccine had already been approved for adolescents 16 and older. But the latest approval is expected to ease concerns among parents and school staffers, making the resumption of school along more normal protocols easier. The Health Department is currently gathering data from the Flagler school district to get an estimate of how many vaccines it will need.
“We are looking forward to placing an order for the Pfizer vaccine to give vaccines to 12 to 15 year olds,” Snyder said, with a projected vaccination site to be set up for children at Wadsworth Elementary school starting in June. “There’s plenty of Pfizer vaccine that will come to all counties in the state of Florida. There’s a good inventory of Pfizer, so all we need to do is ask which I plan on doing, after I get a sense from David Bossardet at the school district just what that the total number of 12 to 15 year olds are, and then take a percentage of that and order some inventory.” Snyder said he hopes to have the vaccines in hand “real soon.”
But public health officials like Snyder and physicians are contending with vaccine resistance and misinformation as they try to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Flagler County does not have a good track record of getting children vaccinated–Flagler in 2019 had the second-highest rate of non-vaccination in the state, among young children–in a state where the vaccination rate had been dropping even ahead of the rollout of the covid vaccine.
“All doctors today have to contend with patients exposed to misinformation. There’s just so much of it out there,” Tim Johnson of AdventHealth said this morning during the hospital network’s weekly briefing on Covid 19. He appeared with pediatric physicians–Dr. Fatma Levent, medical director of pediatric infectious disease at AdventHealth for Children, who has treated a number of children with Covid-induced pneumonia and multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and Dr. Sarah Li, an AdventHealth Medical Group pediatrician practicing in Winter Garden. They spoke of dealing with misinformation or claims about skipping vaccines–and not just the covid vaccine.
“It is definitely dangerous to skip vaccines, because then you can have the resurgence of all of these infections that we have not seen,” Levent said. “Now we have the measles coming back mumps coming back as we have lower vaccination rates. I don’t think people remember how dangerous are the actual infection versus the risks that they consider for the vaccines, because I feel like it goes back to the misinformation: they see all of these things about the vaccines, but they totally forget about what’s happening with the actual infection. Same thing with the Covid. Covid causes a lot of complications, and it can cause death, and it can cause death in children as well. So I feel like if you consider that, then vaccination is a very easy and safe, effective way of being protected.”
Both physicians categorically recommend the covid vaccine for children 12 and up. Levent is planning on having her 14-year-old child vaccinated this week. Her 16 year old already got his first shot, her 18 year old is fully vaccinated.
“We are getting some questions about safety and efficacy and to address issues with vaccine hesitancy, I’ve been doing a lot of reassurance, just as I always do with other vaccines to just giving anticipatory guidance,” Li said. Parents worry about the genetic material in the vaccine, for example, or that the vaccine was developed rapidly. “This genetic material is not something that’s incorporated into our systems. It’s actually broken down very quickly. The speed at which it came to us in terms of availability, there were no short cuts basically made on quality and safety and efficacy. There were still trials of tens of thousands of people to make sure that the vaccine is safe, and just like you were saying, the more I learned about the vaccine, the more it’s abundantly clear that there’s evidence that we should be giving it to everybody who’s able to get it.”
One of the common, false and dangerous belief out there is that children cannot get sick from covid. In Flagler County alone, 14 residents 24 and younger have been hospitalized, three of them 14 and younger. There’s also been over 1,600 infected people who are 24 and younger in Flagler County. Most children will be asymptomatic. “However, as infectious disease specialists and our pediatricians, we have seen many kids being hospitalized,” Levent said, “and some of them are coming in with no background of any other disease and getting Covid pneumonia and other problems. But there’s another big syndrome, it’s called MISD–Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, and we have seen multiple cases of that and they can get very sick. So, it is not true that they don’t get sick, and after seeing that, that’s why I wanted to vaccinate my children so that they would not be a candidate to be in the hospital and get serious infections and other diseases.”
Earlier this week, the Cleveland Clinic released data from a yet-unpublished study that indicates that of the nearly 4,300 covid admissions between January 1 and April 13 more than 99.75 percent were in patients that were not fully vaccinated.
“There can be significant morbidity and mortality involved” even with children, Li said. Short of that, the complications are no small concern. “For example, a young athlete who comes in, who has contracted Covid, depending on the severity of illness, they may have to go through cardiac testing because of the concerns for the effects of Covid on the heart. So there’s a lot of worries. And of course if there’s a sick child, they have to isolate while they’re ill, if they have been back in the classroom, they have to quarantine the classroom and household members have to quarantine. So there’s a lot of worry there and a lot of psychosocial stressors there, medical and psychosocial, and so it’s a lot for the family.”
Other advantages of vaccination, beside reaching herd or community immunity, include the decreased chances that variants will develop. The fewer “hosts” a virus can find, the fewer chances that a variant will develop. Put simply: “We highly recommend the vaccine,” Levent said.