MURRAY – Local health officials are reacting positively to news that Pfizer and BioNTech have completed their clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11.

According to Bloomberg News, Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE said their COVID-19 vaccine was safe and produced strong antibody responses in children ages 5-11 in a large-scale trial. In a trial with 2,268 participants, two shots of a 10 microgram dose — one-third the adult shot — produced antibody levels comparable to those seen in a trial of 16-to-25-year-olds who got the adult dose, the companies said, with similar side effects. Pfizer and BioNTech said they plan to submit the data as part of a near-term request for an emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and to share it with regulators in Europe as well.

“We are very excited that a COVID vaccine may be available soon for children, but we have to wait and see,” said Linda Cavitt, interim director of public health at the Calloway County Health Department. “That’s one thing COVID has taught us; we have to wait and see. Everything changes quickly, but we’ll wait and see, and hopefully, that will start very soon.”

Jerry Penner, CEO of Murray-Calloway County Hospital, said he thinks many parents of young children will be relieved to hear there might be a vaccine available for their kids in the coming weeks or months.

“Obviously, it’s a very positive move in the right direction as we continue to (try to) control infections of COVID-19,” Penner said. “I know there are many parents that are anxious to get their kids vaccinated and have been waiting for some time for that sort of authorization to come through.”

Dr. Bob Hughes, Village Medical’s national medical director for rural health and Murray State University’s chief medical officer, said Monday that he hadn’t yet read the final results from Pfizer and BioNTech’s study, but he eagerly awaits the approval from the FDA. He said he is also encouraged that health care providers can now order smaller batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech at a time, so he expected it to become more widely available.

“One of the things the state did was to start allocating Pfizer in smaller batches; when it first came out, you had to take about 1,000 doses, but now you’re going to see the Pfizer much more available,” Hughes said. “Pretty soon, I think Moderna is going to follow on the heels of Pfizer to get approval too. I think it’s just a matter of weeks, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden thinks the same thing.”

Hughes said if enough parents were concerned enough about their children catching COVID that most of them will vaccinate their younger kids. He said “long haul” COVID cases can be present in children as well as adults. “We still don’t really know what the long-term effects of COVID could be years from now. While children seemed to be less at risk for catching COVID-19 or suffering severe symptoms early in the pandemic, the highly contagious Delta variant has caused far more kids to catch it in the last few months. The symptoms can also be worse if the children have any pre-existing conditions, with obesity being one of the more common problems,” Hughes said.

“If you look at the numbers that the health department puts out and you look at the majority of age groups that you’re starting to see it in, it’s in two groups,” Hughes said. “It’s the people that would have children in school and then it’s the children in school. So one or the other is giving it to each other. It’s either the parents not being vaccinated and giving it to their children or the children bringing it home from school.”

While parents are waiting for the FDA to approve vaccines for younger children, Hughes said there are several things they can do to protect their kids. First, everyone in the child’s social circle, including extended family members with whom they come into regular contact, should get vaccinated if they are eligible. Second, families should be practicing social distancing and other preventative measures just as they did at the beginning of the pandemic. Third, children and their families need to practice good hygiene. The fourth precaution Hughes mentioned is for the children to wear masks in all public settings or indoors with unvaccinated people.

Cavitt, Penner and Hughes also said they agree with Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, that everyone should get a flu shot now that flu season is imminent. While that is always recommended, Stack said if more Kentuckians get immunized against the flu, hospitals will have more capacity to care for COVID patients and other patients as well, the Associated Press reported. Stack said the flu drives up the number of people who are hospitalized in a typical winter.

“Of course, we always recommend everybody six months and older get an annual flu vaccine,” Cavitt said. “We have not yet received our flu vaccine, but we hope to any day.”

“Typically, in a normal year, flu in the United States kills between 40,000 and 60,000 a year,” Penner said. “We took a season off last year because I think everyone was masked up, and now all the sudden, we’re back into this cycle again because this is typically the time – the September-October time frame – when we go on our normal flu campaigns. Absolutely, we need all the help we can get and I highly encourage people to get their flu vaccinations done so we can keep people out of the hospital. So that’s less pressure on the number of patients we have in and have to deal with in conjunction with the COVID-19 patients we’re already dealing with now.”

“If you talk to different doctors, you’ll get different opinions, but I think you should get (the flu shot) as soon as possible,” Hughes said. “You can also get it at the same time that you get a COVID vaccine, so there’s no reason to wait. They don’t have it out yet, but Moderna has been working on a ‘two-fer.’ You’ll actually be able to get the COVID vaccine and the flu shot in one injection.

“But the single biggest thing is we’ve got to get more people vaccinated. The situation across the country is atrocious when you start to hear about rationing of care and hospitals being full. We started out pretty well here in Calloway County, but now if you look the percentages, the number of vaccinated is now somewhere between 48 and 52%. We need much better than that.”

Kentucky Today reported last week that while Kentucky saw a 99% drop in flu cases last season compared to a year earlier, health officials expect to make some kind of comeback this year, although it is unknown how much. According to figures from the Kentucky Department for Public Health, the 2019-2020 flu season had 27,408 confirmed cases in the state, along with 165 deaths. Six of the fatalities involved those under the age of 18.

During the 2020-2021 flu season, there were only 186 confirmed cases, which KT reported was a record low for the state. Two deaths in Kentucky were directly attributed to the flu, while two more died from a combination of the flu and COVID-19 complications, KT reported. Overall, the total of four was a drop of 96.67% from the 2019-2020 season.