COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5 now available at county health departments

The Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for children six months and older are now available at all county health departments. Vaccination for that age group has been available in Mississippi since June 20, but the shots weren’t available at every health department office until this week. 

The Mississippi State Department of Health recommends vaccination for everyone six months and older, but stresses the importance of vaccination for older individuals and people with weakened immune systems or underlying health problems. The Department estimates that there are 160,000 children aged six months to five years old in Mississippi. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccines for use in this age group under an emergency use authorization on June 18, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the move the following day.

Mississippi’s COVID-19 case load has been steadily increasing since May, and the state is currently averaging 1,213 new cases per day. There has been a less pronounced increase in hospitalizations over the same period, and the death rate has stayed about the same.

Thirty-four of Mississippi’s 82 counties are seeing a high level of community spread, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

With cases on the rise and students returning to classrooms next month, some parents are relieved to finally be able to get their small children vaccinated. Jackson resident Ashley Rogers’ 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth will be starting pre-K at McWillie Elementary next month. She received her first dose on Monday. 

“Knowing that she was going to be in a larger school setting with more children and more exposure and more movement made us even more excited for her to qualify for this vaccine,” Rogers said. 

In its analyses of Pfizer and Moderna data released in June, the FDA said both vaccines are effective in preventing symptomatic infection from COVID-19.  Pfizer’s vaccine appeared 80% effective at preventing a symptomatic COVID-19 infection in children under five. Moderna’s vaccine was around 40% to 50% effective for children under 6.

Both vaccines use the same messenger RNA technology as the adult formulations, but the dosage and regimens for young children differ. Moderna’s regimen will include two doses at one-quarter the strength of adult doses, while Pfizer’s requires three doses at one-tenth the strength of adult doses. 

More than 30,000 children younger than 5 have been hospitalized with COVID-19 in the U.S., and nearly 500 coronavirus deaths have been reported in that age group, according to United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy.

In Mississippi, children under 5 have comprised less than 5% of the state’s monthly COVID-19 cases for the majority of the pandemic.

Vaccines for infants are also available at Children’s of Mississippi’s Batson Kids Clinic. Dr. April Palmer, professor and chief of the pediatric infectious diseases division at UMMC, said COVID-19 vaccinations are effective and safe. 

A study co-authored by Palmer’s colleague Dr. Charlotte Hobbs, a professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UMMC, showed the primary series of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations reduced the risk of hospitalization by 68% during the Omicron wave.

“COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe for children, as millions of doses have been given to adults and children during the past 15 months,” Palmer said. “Many children have mild symptoms or no symptoms with COVID-19, but some children have become seriously ill and needed hospitalization for COVID symptoms and complications, and some children have died. COVID-19 vaccination protects children and can prevent them from spreading the virus to others in their family.”

Dr. Anita Henderson, president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said her clinic has been providing the Moderna vaccine to children six months and up since June 24 with no problems. Parents have even reported that their children experienced fewer side effects than with other routine shots.

“We are seeing a significant surge of COVID-19 right now with the latest Omicron BA.5 variant,” Henderson said. “It is the most contagious and the most immune evasive, meaning previous infections with pre-Omicron variants offer little protection. Now is the time to get yourself and your family vaccinated and boosted if eligible.”

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