Home News COVID-19 Situation State receives COVID vaccines for children

State receives COVID vaccines for children

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A child’s dose of the COVID-19 vaccination is shown Wednesday at Children’s National Hospital in Washington. The vaccine, one-third the dose for teens and adults, requires two shots three weeks apart. The U.S. entered a new phase Wednesday in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, with shots now available to millions of elementary-age children in what health officials hailed as a major breakthrough. (AP Photo)

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State officials said Wednesday that New Mexico has already received about 30,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds and outlined a new plan being put into place that aims to keep children and staff exposed to the virus in schools instead of having to quarantine at home.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave its approval Tuesday for younger children to receive smaller dosages of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. The dose for 5 to 11 year olds is about one-third of what adults receive and they can get a second dose three weeks after receiving the first, Dr. Laura Parajón, deputy secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, said in a livestreamed press conference Wednesday afternoon.

The first of three shipments of about 90,000 doses arrived in the state last week, she said. A second shipment will arrive by Friday and the final shipment by Nov. 10.

There are 188,866 children in that age group in New Mexico, Dr. David Scrase, acting secretary of NMDOH, said.

“I don’t think there will be any kind of delay in getting more doses if we ask for more, but that’s how they’re rolling it out. So that’s why we’re asking for patience in terms of waiting as providers get their doses and they’ll open up the scheduled appointments,” Parajón said.

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Parajón and Scrase encouraged parents to schedule appointments for their children through their health care provider, pharmacy or the state’s scheduling website at vaccinenm.org.

“You’ll be able to see more and more scheduled appointments available as the week goes by,” Parajón said.

Pharmacies in particular might have limited capacities to offer appointments for children or for booster shots for adults, Parajón said.

“That is something we have been trying to talk to the pharmacies about to see if they could open up more slots, but now with the children’s vaccines, I think we are in a situation where there is a limited supply of more spaces,” she said.

In clinical testing, the vaccine in 5 to 11 year olds was shown to be 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 and reducing hospitalization, Parajón said.

“Even though children don’t usually get sick, there are still children who can get sick from COVID and get hospitalized, and even five children have died in New Mexico,” she said.

“The CDC estimates that for every 10 children we vaccinate, we can actually prevent a single case of COVID-19 in another child,” she said.

A state epidemiology report this week said there were 1,693 pediatric cases of COVID-19 in the week prior to Nov. 1, comprising about 25% of all cases in New Mexico. 

The side effects of the vaccine have also shown to be more mild in 5 to 11 year olds than in older children, Parajón said. Side effects can include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, and tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.

Kurt Steinhaus, secretary designate of the Public Education Department, also participated in the press conference, speaking of a new program dubbed “Test to Stay” that will allow unvaccinated students and staff in public schools who have been exposed to the virus to stay in school instead of quarantining at home for 10 days.

The students and staff will be tested for COVID-19 on days one, three and five after exposure.

“If the tests are negative and the individual is asymptomatic, that student or that staff member can stay in school. Not only can they stay in school, but they can also participate in all those sporting activities as well as speech and debate and band and music and theater, all those things that make school so exciting for kids,” he said.

“We want to minimize quarantine times and we want to keep our kids engaged in in-person learning,” he said.

A pilot of the program was conducted in the Alamogordo schools and CDC staff are still there to collect data, Steinhaus said. The program will be rolled out to the state’s schools over the next two to five weeks.

When schools will be able to start the program depends on several variables, Steinhaus said.

“Probably the biggest variable is to find a person out there to help do that testing in the schools,” he said.

Getting that person trained and certified to administer the test and ordering the tests will also factor into the rollout.

Parents will be able to opt their children out of the testing, he said.

The state has received a $63 million grant from the CDC to implement the program. That will include at least $70,000 to each school.

“Every school in New Mexico, no matter how large or small, you at least get enough money to hire a full-time person to help with this. And then we are adding $30 per student on top of that so that helps with the volume in the schools,” Steinhaus said.

Scrase said only about one-sixth of the positive tests in schools are among children, about 50 per week statewide currently.

“That is pretty manageable here in our state and better actually than other states are saying,” he said.

“At the beginning of the year we were seeing three staff cases for every single student case. Now it’s flipped. We’re seeing three student cases for every staff case and we think it’s due to the effectiveness of vaccines and the fact that most of the teachers and staff are vaccinated,” Scrase said.

Scrase also said some relief for the state’s hospitals is on the way through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and a contracted staffing firm sending more health care workers here. According to a graphic Scrase showed, 196 additional staff will work in New Mexico hospitals, 16 of those at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center.

Forty-one of them will be going to Farmington, where San Juan Regional Medical Center has declared crisis standards of care, Scrase said.

“That hospital does not have the resources to provide intensive care, general medical care, emergency services for everybody coming in like they usually would,” Scrase said.

In addition, patients cannot be moved to other hospitals in the state because they are full, he said.

“We have dozens of patients in New Mexico who need ICU care sitting in emergency room beds right now,” he said.

The additional staff will allow hospitals to open areas that might have been closed due to staffing shortages or staff additional beds.

An additional 36 additional staff are pending for Farmington and another 94 elsewhere in the state, Scrase said. Costs of the additional staffing are 100% reimbursable through FEMA.

In the daily case update for Wednesday, NMDOH reported 1,166 new cases of COVID-19 in 32 counties. Chaves County had 36 new cases.

The total number of cases in the state since March 2020 is now 279,670, including 12,896 in Chaves County.

The state reported 12 deaths related to COVID-19. Three were in Lea County and two in Cibola County. Bernalillo, Curry, McKinley, Roosevelt, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Sierra counties each reported one death.

The ages of the deceased ranged from a man in his 40s from Sierra County to two women and a man in their 80s from Lea, Roosevelt and Sandoval counties. Ten had been hospitalized and seven had underlying health conditions.

The total number of deaths in the state related to COVID-19 is 5,085, including 205 in Chaves County.

As of Wednesday, 419 people were hospitalized in New Mexico for COVID-19.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

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