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Children under the age of 5 cannot receive Covid vaccines.  Doctors explain how to protect them during omicron

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Children under the age of 5 cannot receive Covid vaccines. Doctors explain how to protect them during omicron

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Students in the 5-day pre-K class at Immanuel Unite Church of Christ line up to exit after helping sort donated food.

Ben Hasty | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

Covid-related hospitalizations are increasing among children, and one age group is particularly vulnerable at the moment: children under 5.

Infants up to 4 years old are the only age group in the United States that is not eligible for vaccination, as the highly contagious omicron variant sweeps through communities.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said earlier this month that there is no evidence that omicron makes children any sicker compared to past variants. Unprecedented levels of transmission across the country, she said, are likely to blame for the rise in hospitalizations.

About 7 in every 100,000 children under age 5 were hospitalized with Covid as of Jan. 8, more than double the rate in December, according to CDC data from 250 hospitals in 14 states.

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that children are much less likely to develop serious Covid illness than adults, but the risk is not zero.

“We have a lot of children, when you look at children’s hospitals across the country, who are seriously ill with Covid-19 requiring hospitalization, some even dying,” Fauci said.

Dr. Roberta DeBiasi said most children admitted to Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC, with Covid during the omicron wave were under 5 years old.

“It’s mostly the group that hasn’t been vaccinated, which is the under-5s,” said DeBiasi, who heads the infectious diseases division at the hospital.

Dr. Andi Shane, chief of the division of infectious diseases at Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta, said many parents naturally feel a loss of control as the pandemic drags on with repeated waves of infection.

However, Shane said, parents need to know that they are not helpless in the face of the virus and that there are practical steps they can take to protect their children. Although children under the age of 5 cannot receive vaccines, parents can protect them by ensuring that all other eligible people in the family are fully vaccinated and receive a booster, according to doctors who spoke with CNBC. . Anyone 12 and older is currently eligible for the Pfizer and BioNTech booster at least five months after their second dose.

Vaccinated and boosted people have up to 75% protection against symptomatic omicron infection, according to a real-world study by the UK Health Security Agency.

Protecting infants and toddlers from Covid is especially difficult because so few tools are available to protect them, said Dr. Allison Bartlett, infectious disease specialist at Comer Children’s Hospital in Chicago. They are not eligible for the vaccine, the CDC strongly advises against putting masks on children under 2, and the FDA has not authorized over-the-counter Covid tests for them.

“They have three strikes against them in terms of preventing infection,” Bartlett said. However, parents can protect them by using the full range of mitigation measures that reduce the risk of family members catching the virus and passing it on to vulnerable people, she said.

“It is all the more imperative for all other members of the household and in contact with children under 5 to wear their own masks and to socially distance themselves and to limit their activity outside the house and to take all other risk mitigation measures to help cocoon and protect the child,” Bartlett said.

Shane said many parents are understandably tired of the pandemic and want their children and families to have normal social interactions again.

“It’s very difficult with these flare-ups that we have every two months and have to pull back and not do the things that we really want to do,” Shane said. “But we really need to do it for short periods, at least until everyone is vaccinated and boosted.”

Fauci said the FDA could approve the vaccine for children under 5 next month, although there’s no guarantee that will happen. Young children will likely need three doses, as two injections did not induce an adequate immune response in children 2 to 4 years old in Pfizer’s clinical trials. Pfizer said it did not identify any safety issues in its trials with the doses for young children, which at 3 micrograms each are much smaller than those for adults.

Children under the age of 5 cannot receive Covid vaccines. Doctors explain how to protect them during omicron

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