COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)

As COVID cases increase among kids, officials await new vaccine guidance

COVID vaccines still aren’t approved for children 4 years old and younger.

State health officials said during a public science session Wednesday that they’re anticipating more federal guidance of COVID-19 vaccines for children, which might be released in the next few months.

Right now, though, COVID vaccines still aren’t approved for children 4 years old and younger.

“This is definitely the million-dollar question,” Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, a staff physician with the Department of Health and Social Services, said Wednesday. “We’re all anxious for this information. There’s an ongoing study for this age group.”

She said current studies on a two-dose series in children hasn’t shown to provide robust protection. Now, Rabinowitz said, federal health agencies are studying a three-dose series for the age group.

“We’re anticipating getting that information sometimes in the next maybe two months,” Rabinowitz said. “And that will then get reviewed for safety and efficacy and authorized at that point, if it is deemed to be safe and effective.”

Health officials have said that younger children are at a lower risk of severe illness from COVID than older populations, but that the demographic is still affected by the pandemic.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID cases among children are “increasing exponentially.”

The AAP reported that for the week ending Jan. 6, there were 580,000 new pediatric COVID cases — a 78% increase from the week ending Dec. 30.

Of the nearly 8.5 million children who have tested positive for the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, 11% of them have tested positive in the past two weeks, according to the AAP.

For now, vaccines aren’t authorized for children 4 years of age and younger.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is approved for everyone 5 years and older, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines are approved for anyone 18 and older.

In addition to a primary series — two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine — experts are strongly encouraging booster shots to protect against the omicron variant. Kids 5 to 11, however, are still unable to get a booster shot.

State health officials have said that current studies indicate a person with their primary series is expected to be about 35% protected against omicron. With a booster dose, the protection jumps to about 75%.

The FDA and CDC are recommending Pfizer boosters for anyone 12 and older at least five months after the primary series. Additionally, Moderna boosters are recommended for anyone 18 and older at least six months after a primary series.

Janssen boosters are approved for anyone 18 and older at least two months after initial vaccination, although the FDA announced it was revising its fact sheet for the Janssen shot to include more data on the risks of blood clotting associated with the vaccine.

According to the Department of Health and Services Facebook page, the state is recommending people with a primary Janssen vaccine to get either a Pfizer or Moderna booster for more robust protection.

COVID cases have hit a sudden spike in Alaska, as the emergence of the omicron variant is now making up over 98% of newly sequenced cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The DHSS reported 4,519 new COVID-19 cases sequenced from Monday and Tuesday.

The new cases reported are an increase from the last week. On Jan. 5 the state reported 1,5972 new infections.

New cases reported Wednesday included 47 in Homer, 30 in Kenai, 29 in Soldotna, 16 in Seward, 11 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough South, six in the Kenai Peninsula Borough North, five in Anchor Point, three in both Nikiski and Sterling, and one in Fritz Creek.

Because many omicron cases have reportedly been less symptomatic and because of the increasing availability of at-home COVID test kits, state officials with the DHSS are encouraging people to use hospitalizations and death metrics to determine the severity of the variant.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alaska are slowly increasing, as the state has reported a large influx of new infections.

As of Wednesday, there were a total of 87 COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska, with eight of those patients on ventilators.

Last Monday on Jan. 5, there were 61 COVID hospitalizations with 11 patients on ventilators.

As of Wednesday, 57.9% of Alaska residents 5 years and older had received their primary vaccine series, and 23.1% had received a booster.

In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 48.1% of residents 5 and older had completed their primary series as of Wednesday, and 20.6% had received a booster.

Getting a vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines do not cost money.

Many organizations on the central peninsula, including Walmart, Walgreens, the Kenai Fire Department and Kenai Public Health, offer vaccines. They are also available for both residents and visitors at airports in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks.

Additionally, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy hosts a walk-in clinic in its strip mall storefront at the “Y” intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways. The clinic is open from noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Vaccination appointments can also be scheduled through the online portal PrepMod, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.

A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov.

People who would like assistance scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.

Testing locations

Officials encourage anyone with symptoms to test for COVID-19, despite vaccination status.

In Kenai, testing is available at the Chignik Lagoon Clinic, Odyssey Family Practice, Kenai Public Health Center and Capstone Clinic. At-home test kits are also available for free at Kenai Public Health.

In Soldotna, testing is available at the Peninsula Community Health Center, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Walgreens and Soldotna Professional Pharmacy.

In Seward, testing is available at Providence Medical Center, Chugachmiut-North Star Health Clinic, Glacier Family Medicine, Seward Community Health Center and the Safeway pharmacy.

Due to an increased need for COVID testing, the Seward Community Health Center and Providence Medical Center are hosting drive-thru testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. through at least Jan. 18. Bring a face mask and a photo ID to get tested.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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