Pfizer is reporting that their preliminary information on vaccines for children ages 5 through 11 indicates it’s safe and effective. In this week’s COVID-19 Update, KSUT’s Sarah Flower spoke with Liane Jollon of San Juan Basin Public Health about this much anticipated data and how her department is preparing.

Interview Transcript:

Sarah Flower  00:00
Hi, I’m Sarah Flower with KSUT News. Today we are joined by Liane Jollon, the Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health Department for our weekly COVID-19 update. Yesterday, Pfizer released some of their data for the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine among school-aged children, ages 5 to 11. And the efficacy is pretty good for early results. Now, this has not been published or peer reviewed as of yet. Liane, this feels like really big news. What are your thoughts?

Liane Jollon  00:32
It’s great news that Pfizer has started to run trials and is submitting evidence to the FDA. But we have to be careful to not get ahead of ourselves. This is the first step in a process. And there was hope at some point in this pandemic, that we would have information about younger school-aged children before the start of the school year, then that was revised to by the end of this calendar year, and then it was pushed up again to this fall. So Pfizer has submitted its data. But there’s many more steps that have to happen. The data really has to be reviewed. The FDA may make a decision based on what’s been submitted so far by the company, or there may be a delay, and they may ask for additional studies. What we have to remember is, we’re all really really anxious to protect our children. It is so important that we protect our kids, it’s also so important that we allow kids the opportunity for in-person learning and for in-person activities so that kids can develop all of the social emotional learning and form the relationships and all of the things, it keeps the community running, right, we have to have daycare for kids, we have to have activities for kids. So this is a really important step. But we also can’t get ahead of ourselves. We want to be absolutely certain that all of the evidence is collected. Because this is a little bit of a tough thing to say, but five to eleven year olds historically, even with the Delta variant, do not experience the same percentages of severe infection and hospitalization and fatalities, as much, much older age groups. So you don’t want to authorize the vaccine until we’re very certain it is a safe vaccine. Pfizer has done the first step, there will be additional steps, if everything comes back looking really positive, and they can say the vaccine is safe, and it prevents kids from getting severe illness and getting hospitalized, then it will be authorized. When we know that, in the background, what San Juan Basin Public Health is doing is we are preparing for five to eleven year olds, should they become authorized, we’re preparing for new people of any age to get vaccinated, and we’re preparing for boosters should those become authorized in the next couple of weeks and months. So there’s still lots of unknowns. We’re trying to be prepared for everything. But we do want to acknowledge as anxious as we are, we also have to be careful that it’s safe and effective.

Sarah Flower  03:06
Let’s go into that booster conversation that’s also been making headlines this past week since we spoke. So the FDA, and correct me if I’m wrong, but the FDA has said that the booster is only approved for those 65 and older, those that are immunocompromised or in a high risk setting from the FDA. However, this has not yet been reviewed by ACIP, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Will, ACIP have different advice. I mean, I feel like, Liane, this is real science playing out in real time.

Liane Jollon  03:37
And I think people hate that right? Some of us just want to get to the answer, and we’re not used to watching the process unfold. While all of this is playing out in real time, and then over the summer, there’s the introduction of the Delta variant. And then there’s lots of questions about is immunity waning. Is the Delta variant more dangerous, right. And all of this is kind of happening at once. And people really have to tease it out and study all of the components of that. And at this point, the FDA reviewed a lot of science, a lot of studies to reach the conclusion last week that they are interested in approving booster shots. So a third shot for people who were over 65. And for people who were in the health care profession, exposed to COVID on a regular basis. So what they really did in this is look at the science and say from their perspective, the science isn’t there yet to say that the vaccines are not working or not working well enough for the average person who’s under the age of 65 or not being continuously exposed to COVID. So this is the conclusion that they started to reach last week. But as you’ve said, there are again additional steps. The FDA does one part of the review. And then there’s a committee that meets which is the ACIP committee who then makes recommendations to the CDC. And then the CDC makes recommendations to states. So while we would all love these answers to come more quickly, I think it’s really important to know this is what what the due diligence of these organizations is at this time.

Sarah Flower  05:21
The other thing I want to go to it’s like clockwork, it’s been two weeks since Labor Day weekend, and across the region, there is an uptick of positive Covid-19 cases, which then decreases hospital capacity, ICU beds are dwindling throughout the state, and certainly, throughout the region. I want you to weigh in on that. And if this uptick is, in fact, due to Labor Day weekend gatherings.

Liane Jollon  05:45
No, I think this uptick is potentially Labor Day. It’s also potentially something that we talked about as a community a lot in August. We asked people to redouble their efforts for taking precautions as we were preparing for schools to open because we knew that that additional mixing of people, and especially mixing people who are under the age of 12, because that’s a non vaccinated population, could in fact, increase cases in the region. And so what we don’t know is if the current increase is related specifically to Labor Day, if it’s related to extra activities now that people are mixing in new ways, because the school year has started, you know, where is it related to the weather being a little bit cooler, and people spending some more time inside. We are in an increase, it’s interesting, we actually saw a plateau and a decrease going into the beginning of the school year, which we were very proud of, we felt like our community had really got together and said, we want to help protect in-person learning. So people added precautions to their lifestyle. So now we’re starting to see the step up, we’re probably in most places around our community at about 200 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days, which puts us firmly in the high risk according to the CDC metrics that they have available right now. That’s what we see across most of Colorado. It is lower than surrounding states, many of our surrounding states have much, much higher rates. And we’re seeing tremendous demands on our health care system. So we really want to caution people, you know, the number one thing you can do to stay out of the hospital to not get a severe COVID infection is get yourself vaccinated. Please come in. We have vaccine clinics almost every day. They’re free, they’re easy to get, we can either make you an appointment in advance, or you can just walk into the clinic. And you should be able to get time off work to get this done. So that’s the most important step. But also while we’re in this Delta wave, we really are asking people to take some additional precautions to protect themselves and protect our healthcare system from getting overrun.

Sarah Flower  08:00
Liane Jollon, Executive Director of San Juan Basin Public Health, anything else you want to add for our listeners this week?

Liane Jollon  08:07
We’re just like everybody else watching closely to see what happens next with vaccine for school-aged children and for boosters for everybody else, so we’ll have more information as it unfolds.

Sarah Flower  08:17
Liane, thanks so much for your time today and every Tuesday here on KSUT for our weekly COVID-19 update.