REGIONAL- Parents of children under five years of age who have been trying to shield their kids from the effects of a coronavirus infection got the news they’ve long been waiting for recently …
REGIONAL- Parents of children under five years of age who have been trying to shield their kids from the effects of a coronavirus infection got the news they’ve long been waiting for recently when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control approved the use of COVID-19 vaccines in children down to six months of age, effective June 17.
“This is an important and exciting time for many families as our youngest Minnesotans can now receive important protection against COVID-19 through vaccination,” said Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “We know that even young children can get very sick from this virus, and that’s why it’s important for all of us to continue doing everything we can to protect our loved ones and our communities from COVID-19. Now is a great time to make sure the entire family is up to date on their COVID-19 vaccines.”
More than 300 providers statewide, including primary care providers, community health clinics, and tribal health offices have reported that they will be offering vaccinations for kids in this youngest age group.
However, while the Minnesota Department of Health anticipates demand will initially be high, experience with older children and certain logistical factors suggest this rollout will take awhile to make much of an impact.
Children ages five to 11 became eligible for vaccinations last November at a time when the Delta variant was fueling a sharp increase in cases that would peak in December. With COVID running rampant and most children back to in-person learning and presumably having greater possibility of exposure, the initial uptake in both Minnesota and the country was strong.
But Delta and the massive Omicron wave that arrived in its wake apparently weren’t persuasive enough for parents who wanted to wait and see before making a decision, or those who had already decided they would not get their children vaccinated. Nationwide, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that vaccination rates in this age group dropped significantly after the first two weeks of eligibility, and as of June 16 only 29.5 percent had been fully vaccinated, compared to 75 percent of those ages 12 and above.
In the short time that vaccinations for the youngest Minnesotans have been available, MDH reports that 3,291 children have received their first vaccine dose, representing less than one percent of the estimated 346,000 children four and under in the state. Less than one in five parents of children in this age group who were surveyed said that they would definitely have their child vaccinated.
At this point, that’s not surprising, as vaccine availability is still spotty in many areas. A greater number of parents of young children also are expected to seek vaccinations through their primary health care provider or pediatrician, as opposed to taking their children to a family or a larger vaccination center, which means making scheduled appointments. MDH warned that it could be a long wait in some areas.
“Families wishing to get the vaccine in a specific location – such as through their family pediatrician – may need to wait several weeks until appointments are available,” an MDH news release last week said.
Minnesota has done better than the nation with full vaccinations for the 5-11 group, now at 39 percent, yet only 12 percent have received a recommended booster thus far. For those children ages 12 and above, the state lags the nation, with about 70 percent being fully vaccinated and around 28 percent who are up to date.
The MDH release also referred parents to the state’s Vaccine Locator map, but as with the initial rollout of the tool last year, testing performed by the Timberjay on Tuesday found the site of limited use in the North Country. For example, among the various scenarios tested, selecting Tower for the location for a three-year-old to be vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine, no locations came up on the map that were within 100 miles. However, that Tower parent does have options nearby.
The Moderna vaccine is available now by appointment at the Scenic Rivers Health Services offices in Cook and Bigfork and the clinic plans to roll out the vaccine at other locations soon. Essentia Health also announced that they would be starting vaccinations for kids under five years and will be using the three-shot Pfizer vaccine.
State Department of Health guidance for vaccinations are as follows:
• Children ages 6 months to five years should get either the Pfizer vaccine or Moderna vaccine for this age group.
• The vaccines for this age group are a smaller dose than the vaccines for older children and adults.
• The vaccines for these children are packaged differently, so you will need to go to a location that has the vaccine that is right for your child based on their age.
• Your child will need multiple doses of this vaccine — this is called the primary vaccine series.
• The Pfizer vaccine for this age group is three doses. You can get the second dose 3-8 weeks after the first dose and your third dose eight weeks after the second dose. Your provider can help you schedule your second and third shot while getting your first.
• The Moderna vaccine for this age group is two doses. You can get the second dose 4-8 weeks after the first dose. Your provider can help you schedule your second shot while getting your first.
• Talk to your provider if you have questions about either type of vaccine or which vaccine is right for your child.
The Department of Health has set up a webpage dedicated to vaccine information for all children ages 17 and under at https://mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/vaxforkids/.
COVID cases in the state have been trending downward but appear to have leveled off somewhat. Case counts of around 1,500 per day or lower have been the norm for the past couple of weeks, about a thousand less per day than just three weeks ago.
The seven-day case average in St. Louis County reflects a similar flattening of the trend, holding around 50-55 since June 10.
However, the news could be better for the North Country, as all six zip codes monitored by the Timberjay have reported increased cases over the past three weeks. Ely tops the list with 28, followed by Cook with 20. Orr reported ten new cases, while Tower reported nine, Embarrass six, and Soudan three. No new cases have been reported for Bois Forte during the same period.
Looking to the future
The more highly contagious Omicron variants B.4 and B.5 have continued to gain ground and now represent 52 percent of new cases nationwide, with the regions including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa trending higher still at 56 percent.
The Mayo Clinic’s COVID tracker 14-day projections on Tuesday showed that another wave of increasing cases is likely headed in this direction, although judging from the speed of the progression it would likely be late July before the effects are felt in St. Louis County. While all of Minnesota was in the CDC’s low community risk category last week, the Mayo’s projections show heightened levels of COVID cases starting primarily in the southwest corner of the state and progressing toward the northeast. Southeast Minnesota and the Twin Cities will also start seeing more COVID cases, according to the projections.
B.4 and B.5 have been found to have mutations that allow them to more easily circumvent both vaccine-based and COVID-induced immunity, although data is still clearly demonstrating the health advantages of vaccinations in terms of less serious illness, fewer hospitalizations, and fewer deaths. The variant subtypes are more frequently presenting with milder symptoms than previous variants like Delta.
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