COVID-19 vaccines will be available in La Plata County for children 5 years old and younger starting this week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized both Moderna and Pfizer shots.
Families can start accessing vaccine appointments at pediatric offices and the state’s vaccination bus in La Plata County this week, said Megan Graham, spokeswoman for San Juan Basin Public Health. SJBPH’s clinics also have a limited supply of vaccines.
Pediatric Partners of the Southwest will hold its first vaccination clinic for children younger than 5 on Friday using the recently approved Pfizer vaccine, said Dr. Jessica Marsh, a pediatrician with Pediatric Partners.
Because of limited supplies, Pediatric Partners will offer vaccines only during scheduled clinics and not during wellness visits, she said.
Area practices have the choice to use Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, which have both been shown to be safe and effective but have slight differences.
Pfizer’s vaccine will be available for those 6 months to 4 years old. Moderna’s vaccine covers children 6 months to 5 years old.
There is no gap in coverage between the two. Rather, the age difference is a product of how the FDA approved the vaccines, with the Pfizer vaccine previously approved for children 5 years and older.
“The Moderna and the Pfizer vaccines both work the same way. The differences really come down to what dose they each chose and what frequency they chose,” Marsh said.
Pfizer’s vaccine has three shots with the first two given three weeks apart and the third eight weeks or more after the second dose. Each dose is one-tenth of the adult dose.
Moderna’s vaccine has two doses separated by a month. They are each a quarter of the company’s adult shot.
“Pfizer was doing a lower dose because they didn’t want (this age group) to have significant side effects because they were worried parents wouldn’t want to bring in their baby or a toddler for a vaccine that was going to make them as sick as our adult doses,” Marsh said.
In young children, the side effects of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are similar to those from other vaccines, including fever and pain at the injection site, but Pfizer does have milder side effects, she said.
Neither company identified heart inflammation or other more severe effects during trials.
The other trade-off between the two vaccines is a slight difference in protection.
With Moderna, children reach full protection more quickly at about six weeks. Children who receive the Pfizer vaccine are fully protected at 13 weeks.
The Pfizer vaccine may have a higher efficacy in preventing illness, Marsh said, but both protect against severe disease.
Graham encouraged families to contact their pediatricians for more information.
“We’re definitely recommending that people talk to their pediatrician about what’s appropriate and what’s available,” she said.
The FDA authorized the emergency use of both vaccines for young children on June 17 citing the protection they provided and their safety.
“Many parents, caregivers and clinicians have been waiting for a vaccine for younger children, and this action will help protect those down to 6 months of age,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in a news release.
A day later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended children 6 months through 5 years old receive COVID-19 vaccines.
COVID-19 cases in La Plata County dipped last week after a bump in transmission in early June, according to SJBPH data.
However, the CDC’s community levels metric, which the agency releases every Thursday, classifies the county as “high” risk.
More than 70% of La Plata County residents are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
While the effects of COVID-19 on young children has been less severe than older populations, Marsh said it was important that families consider the vaccines.
Multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which some children get with COVID-19, is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition that has resulted in the deaths of more than 50 children in the U.S.
Young children have also fared more poorly with the omicron variant, worsening croup, a common respiratory illness, Marsh said.
“I hope that people consider this as a way to protect their little ones in getting back to normal life,” she said.
The COVID-19 vaccines for young children will be a boon for the larger La Plata County community, Graham said.
“While it’s true that younger populations have had less severe disease, adding this layer of protection is helpful in the overall picture of COVID-19 transmission,” she said.