After months of experiencing how the coronavirus vaccines safely can slash infections, avert serious illnesses that can lead to hospitalizations, and prevent epic numbers of deaths, young and older patients soon will be asked to show (again) their confidence in the life changing and life saving value of Covid-19 shots.
The pandemic-weary U.S. public, though, may not be eager enough to roll up their sleeves to try to quell the worst infectious outbreak in a century. Vaccination efforts have reached lows not seen since 2020, this in spite of the fast spread of BA.2, a newer and more infectious variant of the coronavirus.
Even as millions of people struggle with sustained harms of the illness — serious debilitation with so-called long and medium covid cases — the pandemic is well into one of its sustained lulls. This means that cases have plunged, hospitals are nearing more normal occupancy, and deaths are declining to distressing still levels — hundreds of people dying of the disease on average daily, rather than thousands.
This spring calm is challenging regular folks, medical experts, regulators, and authorities as to next steps in quelling a pandemic that has killed more than 1 million Americans and 80 million infected of us.
Moderna seeks OK for shots for kids
Vaccinations remain a foundation of public health efforts to control the disease to a point where it is far less destructive than it has been.
Moderna has announced it will seek emergency approval from federal regulators for children 5 and younger to receive lesser doses of its coronavirus vaccine. If allowed, vaccination of kids would close an important gap in societal protections against the disease.
But grownups must grasp and contend with a challenge about the shots for kids: Research shows the vaccine does not work as well in youngsters as it does in adults, especially due to the prevalence of the highly contagious Omicron variant. As the New York Times reported of Moderna’s recent clinical trials of its vaccine in youngsters:
“[T]he company said the vaccine proved only about 44% effective in preventing symptomatic illness among children 6 months to 2 years old, and 37% effective in children 2 through 5. Dr. Jacqueline Miller, the firm’s senior vice president for infectious diseases, said the relatively low level of protection demonstrated the ability of the Omicron variant to evade the vaccine’s shield. Nonetheless, she said in an interview, ‘what we have seen is a successful trial …What I will say is 37.5% and 43.7% are higher than zero,” she said. “If I were the parent of a young child, I would want there to be some protection on board, especially if we see another wave of infections.”
As a New York Times parenting columnist reported separately, though, vaccine confusion and misinformation may undercut medical experts’ recommendation for kids to get vaccinated. Concerns have run high, though likely in mostly misplaced fashion, as to the safety of coronavirus shots, with the newspaper reporting this:
“[A]ccording to Moderna, no children in its trial experienced severe illness or hospitalization or died.”
But months of reports that children have experienced fewer of the pandemic’s harms — they were, until the Omicron variant struck, diagnosed with far fewer cases, had fewer hospitalizations, and lower deaths, as compared with adults — may lead parents to question the need for covid vaccination. They also may see the urgency decline, as schools follow society at large in dropping public health protections like face covering, distancing, and lessening of contact with others.
Kids, of course, already benefit by getting an array of vaccinations (see federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention photo, above) and parents need to ensure they do so, pandemic or no. So, why would there be issues about seeing a pediatrician for another quick set of shots?
The difficulties, though, in discussing vaccinations to combat infectious outbreaks is well-known, for example, with getting patients to consider annual shots for flu — a disease that can be debilitating, even deadly, and has been far less serious than the novel coronavirus has proven to be. Doctors struggle to persuade even vulnerable patients to get a vaccine that reduces the risk of flu infection by 40% to 60%.
Still, studies have shown that youngsters have been asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus, meaning that parents may want to vaccinate their kids to protect the vulnerable the children may encounter, including grandparents or immunocompromised family members.
For the 50+ crowd, another shot may beckon
As for older adults, a difficult discussion has run for a while now about the need for further doses of coronavirus vaccines. The nation already has lagged in getting seniors and those at high risk of infection to get boosters. Both Moderna and Pfizer have recommended a fourth shot because they say their studies show their vaccines’ effectiveness wanes after time.
Moderna says another dose would be warranted for all adults, while Pfizer has urged them for those 65 and older.
The New York Times reported that federal regulators likely will allow additional doses for people older than 50, but without a recommendation for this:
“Major uncertainties have complicated the decision, including how long the protection from a second booster would last, how to explain the plan to the public and even whether the overall goal is to shield Americans from severe disease or from less serious infections as well, since they could lead to long Covid. Much depends on when the next wave of Covid infections will hit, and how hard. Should the nation be hit by a virulent surge in the next few months, offering a second booster now for older Americans could arguably save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of hospitalizations.
“But if no major wave hits until the fall, extra shots now could turn out to be a questionable intervention that wastes vaccine doses, deepens vaccination fatigue and sows doubt about the government’s strategy. The highly contagious Omicron subvariant BA.2 is helping to drive another surge of coronavirus cases in Europe and is responsible for about a third of new cases in the United States, but health officials have said they do not anticipate a major surge caused by the subvariant.”
Authorities say 97.1 million fully vaccinated people have received an additional vaccine dose or a booster dose, the highest level of protection against the virus.
We are not done with pandemic and officials would be wise to recognize this, including sustaining the money to battle the disease. Regular folks appear to be having varied reactions to health officials easing coronavirus measures. But those with heightened vulnerability to the virus — those who are older, immunocompromised, overweight, and with underlying conditions, or individuals from hard-hit communities of color — still may be staying careful, including by keeping on their masks. Those using public transportation also must keep their masks on for a while longer.
The (responsible) unvaccinated in many areas that ease pandemic measures will be required to cover their faces and more as they cannot show proof that they have gotten their coronavirus shots and boosters.
The vaccines remain life changers and life savers. Vaccine hesitancy and resistance has taken a staggering toll on the country already. If you have not gotten your shots, please do so, boosters and all, pronto. If you haven’t chatted with your doctor for a bit, you should — especially about whether your individual health would benefit from an additional dose of vaccine and when might be the time to get it. If you have been exposed or think you have gotten infected, please get tested — and quarantine or isolate to protect yourself and others.