CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Pediatricians in West Virginia are speaking out about the need for COVID-19 vaccinations for young children.
Dr. Ellie Smith, chair of pediatrics at both Berkeley Medical Center in Martinsburg and Jefferson Medical Center in Ranson, wants parents to know that the vaccine is safe for kids.
“If we can protect them, they can then get back to more of what their normal development is being together, seeing each other face-to-face. They’re also not bringing it home spreading it to babies or their grandparents,” Smith said.
A Centers for Disease Control panel on Tuesday night approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids between the ages of 5 and 11, bringing 28 million children one step closer to being protected against the virus.
During Wednesday’s coronavirus media briefing, Governor Jim Justice welcomed Dr. Jessica McColley, of Cabin Creek Health Systems, to give her 7 year old son, Jacob, the Pfizer shot.
“The 5-11 year olds will receive about a third of the dose of adults, so it’s 10 micro grams, whereas adults are at 33 micro grams for Pfizer,” McColley explained.
Smith and McColley, who both work with families and young kids, said they know parents will have questions and that they should consult with their pediatrician.
“We’ll be with you on the journey of figuring it out,” Smith said.
State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said there is no tier system for children to get the vaccine like there is for adults.
“We would like all children to go out and get the vaccine,” Amjad said, with the exception of kids on certain medications.
“That would be a one-to-one conversation that we would want the parent to have with their doctor at this time,” she said.
The CDC said by vaccinating kids, the rate of virus transmission could be reduced by 8 percent and up to 600,000 cases nationwide could be prevented between now and March 2022.
Smith said families are experiencing many negative impacts from COVID and that the vaccine could help change things around.
“People are losing weeks and days of daycare because their kid has a cold. At this point, there’s no way for us to tell the difference between a cold because the coronavirus is actually a cold virus,” she said.
Amjad said there are few children in West Virginia hospitalized with COVID-19.
Early results in children show that the Pfizer vaccine is nearly 91 percent effective in preventing symptomatic infections with only mild side effects.
Governor Jim Justice said during Wednesday’s briefing there could be a possible easing of local mask mandates in schools as more children receive their shots.
“It’s my hope and prayers that we can move closer and closer to normalcy as we possibly can, but we wanna still be on guard,” Justice said.
Mental health issues for kids related to the virus is also on the rise, including increased anxiety.
“When we have a pandemic on top of a mental health crisis, it is very concerning that we’re going to have some bad outcomes that could last a while,” Smith said.
Many kids have lost parents due to COVID, Smith said. If kids are vaccinated, then that could prevent even further loss of life.
“We know that 180,000 kids in America are what they’re calling ‘COVID orphans’ because their primary caregiver had died of COVID,” she said. “This is definitely the most complicated, challenging infectious disease.”
Justice said he’s preparing to announce a new incentive program as early as Monday to encourage West Virginia’s children to get vaccinated. He said he will name it “Do It For Babydog 3” following two previous vaccination sweepstakes.