In the months of October and November, there have been new developments with the COVID-19 virus and pandemic, these being the emergence of the new Omicron variant and the approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children 5–11.
COVID-19 Vaccine Approval for Children Aged 5–11
On October 29, 2021, the FDA approved the emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5–11. Pfizer’s data submitted to the FDA consisted of a study of 3,100 children, in which they found that their vaccine was 90.7% effective in protecting children in this age group against COVID-19, which mirrors the immune response shown in young adults. They also found that there were no serious side effects for children at this age. This age group is given a lower dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, 10 mg compared to an adult’s 30 mg, given three weeks apart.
A few days later on November 2, the CDC gave its recommendation for children in this age group to get the Pfizer vaccine. These approvals marked a major milestone in the fight against COVID-19, as it expands the eligible population for the vaccine by another 28 million people.
This development is also likely to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in general, as children that get the disease in school can easily transmit it to other family members, which can cause more severe cases in elderly or immunocompromised family members. This can cause a larger increase in COVID-19 cases in communities when there is a large school outbreak. This is coupled with the trend that in children that contract COVID-19 are more likely to have cases that are asymptomatic, which can go unnoticed until transmission to other family members or classmates occurs.
So far, around 5 million children have been vaccinated against COVID-19, with over 10% of children getting vaccinated within the first two weeks of its approval. However, this figure lags behind what is needed for the possibility of the US to reach herd immunity.
While most Americans have been vaccinated and have been willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19, more parents are more concerned about getting their children vaccinated, with only 26% of parents with children 5–11 saying that they would get them vaccinated right away. In the same survey, over 40% of parents said they would wait, likely for more data to come out, and over 25% expressed they would not get their children vaccinated.
For the parents that expressed the possibility of vaccinating their kids, they have cited many reasons for waiting, one of which is the concern over the risks of myocarditis resulting from the vaccine. Public health officials are trying to reassure them that this side effect is not only rare, but rarer amongst children aged 5-11 as no cases were reported in the clinical trial. Other concerns are about the lack of data concerning the long-term effects, inaccessibility to the COVID-19 vaccine, or other serious possible side effects.
However, it is important to note that health officials have said that the risks of COVID-19, including transmission to others, hospitalization, and death, heavily outweigh the risks of getting the COVID-19 vaccine for all age groups.
Emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant
On November 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the classification of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. This variant of COVID-19 was first announced by South Africa, after concerns that samples of COVID-19 were missing a gene in its genome, which raised concern in scientists, leading to tests that confirmed that it was a new variant of COVID-19.
However, it is important to make the distinction that while South Africa has been the first to report the Omicron variant, this doesn’t mean that the variant originated in South Africa, a widespread claim that is being circulated as of now.
Currently, not much is known about the Omicron variant with scientists currently collecting data on the transmissibility and severity of COVID-19 cases. However, researchers have said the preliminary data is not showing that the symptoms of the Omicron variant are different, in type or severity, from that of other variants. There are also studies going on to assess how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is against the Omicron variant, with public health officials urging people to continue getting vaccinated.
Currently, the Omicron variant has been found in 38 countries and 15 US states have confirmed cases of the Omicron variant. On the same day, President Joe Biden announced travel restrictions on South Africa and surrounding countries with the reasoning of preventing the spread of these variants into the United States.
The president and white house officials have faced criticism from this action as Omicron cases have been found in other countries, mainly in Europe. Yet South Africa and surrounding countries, with some of these countries not even having confirmed Omicron cases, have been the only countries to face these restrictions. Some officials have said this will weaken the economies of these countries and further hinder their ability to respond to and curtail the pandemic. Recently, Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has expressed hopes to lift this ban soon as more information about it surfaces.