Covid-19: Experts Await Data on Moderna’s Vaccine for Kids; Criticize the Lifting of Mask Mandate

Covid-19: Experts Await Data on Moderna’s Vaccine for Kids; Criticize the Lifting of Mask Mandate

By: Jenny Manrique

The medical community is celebrating drug maker Moderna’s recent announcement that it is seeking FDA approval for its Covid-19 vaccination for younger kids, though experts add they are “anxiously” awaiting further data on its efficacy and safety.

“We have seen that our youngest of the patients are getting sick and hospitalized with COVID… even previously healthy kids can develop complications and the multi-system inflammatory syndrome,” said Dr. Manisha Newaskar, Pediatric Pulmonologist at Stanford Children’s Health during a press briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services on April 29th.

“The data still needs full review, but we have to educate our young families and encourage them to get our young ones vaccinated.” The vaccine will require two doses one month apart and is expected to be authorized by June. Parents have been hesitant about shots for their kids due to the risk of myocarditis that experts explain is lower as we go down the age range.

“Schools may have a role to play in getting the vaccine out there,” said Dr. Ben Neuman, Professor of Biology and Chief Virologist of the Global Health Research Complex, Texas A&M University. “There are 500 deaths per year of bacterial meningitis, and that is one of the things that schools would normally require vaccination against…COVID-19 is around 350 deaths in the same age group in roughly the span of the year. This needs to be one of the vaccines to make school work.”

Moderna previously asked the FDA to authorize its vaccine for six to 11-year-olds and 12 to 17-year-olds and expects to submit data on efficacy by May 9.

The news came along with another development of the biotechnology company: a bivalent vaccine that seeks to provide stronger, longer-lasting protection against new variants.

“Each year we update our influenza vaccine and it’s now a quadrivalent vaccine. It has four different antigens in it. So, the thinking of the vaccine scientists is to do something quite similar with COVID,” explained Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“Expanding the antigens in the vaccines, we get broader coverage against this array of variants going forward.”

The speed of the different strengths of variants to appear, mutate and go extinct requires a fast development of multivariant vaccines. The BA2 Omicron variant, which emerged in late November in the United States, is almost gone but has been replaced by a subvariant that is even more contagious: the BA.2.12.1

“We need to advocate the FDA to update the vaccines more quickly considering that we’re just tweaking the spike protein a little bit,” said Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, Co-Founder and Board Member of the World Health Network, and Chief of COVID Task Force at the New England Complex Systems Institute. “We should be able to do a phase two (of approval), and then allow these brand new phases to adapt the vaccines pretty quickly…”

Experts also weighed in on the removal of mask mandates on public transportation which several U.S transit systems, including airlines, have already adopted.

“We don’t just stop wearing helmets, unbuckle our seatbelts, and allow drunk driving because hospital beds are not full. I think the CDC is forgetting the prevention (strategies) in trying to push for a return to normal,” added Dr. Feigl-Ding who highlighted the fact that even for people who are boosted, the protection against hospitalization and death is 90-95%, but the protection against infection is only about 45%.

“Adults now are going out to gatherings, parties, bars, restaurants, nightclubs, even more than before when they were cautious…. The likelihood of transmission is higher, and someone may have immunocompromised children at home or family members who could actually have a severe outcome (of the infection).”

Dr. Schaffner agreed that the measure might increase the vulnerability of already fragile people and suggested that people make decisions for themselves about the time to leave the mask at home. “Are you older? Do you have an underlying illness, heart disease or lung disease? Are you immune-compromised? Are you a person that’s providing care for someone? Continue to be very careful.”

The speakers emphasized that vaccination is safe and that boosters are essential to strengthen immunity against COVID-19 and its long-term effects such as headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbance, stomach aches, chest tightness, and loss of appetite among others.

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