Children 6 months and older are the latest group to become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine after the state granted its approval over the weekend.
The Office of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown reported Sunday, June 12, that the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup had completed its review of the federal process and unanimously concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are safe and effective for children as young as 6 months old.
The Moderna two-dose vaccine series and the Pfizer three-dose vaccine series are now available to children 6 months to 5 years old, according to a press release from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).
The OHA informed healthcare providers that they could begin administering the vaccines as soon as Monday, June 13.
The news comes after State Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger, joined by OHSU School of Medicine Professor of Pediatrics Dr. Dawn Nolt, announced the FDA’s approval of pediatric doses for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at a press conference held Friday, June 17.
“Today is a monumental step forward in our nation’s fight against the virus, with virtually every American now eligible for the protections that COVID-19 vaccines provide,” President Joe Biden said. “For parents all over the country, this is a day of relief and celebration.”
Children aged 6 months to 5 years are the last subgroup to become eligible for the vaccine.
The pediatric vaccine rollout will expand eligibility to 230,000 Oregon children and 20 million children in the United States.
At the June 17 media briefing, Sidelinger touched on several points, including the downward trend of COVID-19 hospitalizations and Oregon’s still high level of community spread.
According to Sidelinger, COVID-19 test positivity rose slightly from 11.4% on May 16 to 11.7% on June 14, and during the last month, daily reported case counts have leveled, from a rolling seven-day average of 1,401 cases reported on May 16, to 1,487 on June 14.
“We assume these numbers are a dramatic undercount of the actual number of cases because we know many people are using at-home tests and not reporting the results,” Sidelinger said. “We also know many others are not getting tested. Trends in this state and around the country tell us there are higher levels of transmission.”
As of Friday, June 17, there were 1,596 new COVID cases and six hospitalizations (309 overall).
According to a CDC report on the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine efficacy for children aged 6 months to 4 years, vaccines were 41.5% effective against COVID-19 infection up to 2.5 months after receiving a second dose.
The CDC reported similar findings with vaccine effectiveness for adults aged 18-64 years at the height of Omicron.
The CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker shows that the Omicron variant was still the dominant variant the week of June 5 - June 11, making up 62.4% of infections in the United States.
Learn more about vaccine efficacy for pediatric doses on the CDC website.
Back to masks?
On Thursday, May 12, Multnomah County officials urged residents to consider readopting face coverings in public indoor spaces after the COVID-19 daily case count more than tripled from April to May.
While the recommendation fell short of a mandate, after conducting interviews with OHA officials, The Chronicle learned that the possibility of reimposing mandates is not out of the picture.
In an email correspondence, OHA Public Affairs Specialist Rudy Peter answered a question from The Chronicle as to whether there is a potential for mask mandates to come back in the fall should case numbers rise.
“The Oregon Health Authority monitors communicable disease outbreaks, including COVID-19 case rates and hospital capacity,” Peter responded. “If hospital capacity is strained, unable to care for the public, OHA will take steps to ensure hospital care is accessible to those in need.”
According to Peter, keeping a close eye on COVID-19 caseloads and hospital admission rates in service areas will be critical in determining whether hospital capacity is at risk.
“New COVID-19 admissions and the percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied represent the current potential for strain on the health system,” he said. “Data on new cases acts as an early warning indicator of potential increases in health system strain in the event of a COVID-19 surge.”
On Dec. 27, 2021, The Chronicle reported that the OHA filed a proposed rulemaking notice with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, requesting changes to the current rule requiring the adoption of the indoor masks in Oregon, that would have expired on Feb. 8, 2022.
In February, the OHA’s Public Health Division filed a Permanent Administrative Order repealing the temporary order.
The order reads in part as follows.
“The Authority gives the Oregon State Public Health Director or the Oregon State Health Officer the authority to rescind and reinstate all or parts of the rule taking into consideration, at a minimum, information and data related to COVID-19 transmission, hospitalizations and deaths, disparate effects on communities of color and tribal communities, guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and rates of vaccination for COVID-19.”
CDC data shows Columbia County as in the medium-risk category for COVID-19 transmission, meaning recommendations are as follows:
• If you are at high risk for severe illness, talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions.
• Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines.
• Get tested if you have symptoms.
See covid.cdc.gov for more data, resources, and updates about COVID-19.