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Omicron booster vaccines for kids are here, as county prepares for potential winter Covid surge

Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases over the past 26 weeks, as of Oct. 17, 2022 (via VDH)

Booster COVID-19 vaccinations for kids aged 5 to 11 were put on hold late last week, as the Fairfax County Health Department transitions to updated vaccines that target omicron variants of the disease.

Federal health officials expanded their recommendation for the bivalent booster vaccines to include that younger age group on Wednesday (Oct. 12), saying the updated shots will provide better protection against “more transmissible and immune-evading” variants.

The bivalent boosters were authorized for people 12 and older at the end of August. The county health department says it has seen “a mild demand” for the vaccine since it became available in September.

“Typically, there is a surge when additional eligibility is updated, but the situation cools after a couple of weeks. That is typical of this update as well,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said. “We have no issues with vaccine supply and it is widely available throughout the community, pharmacies, medical providers, and our County sites, at this time.”

The authorization for the previous Pfizer booster shots for kids 5 to 11 ended on Oct. 12, so the health department stopped administering boosters for that age group until the new ones arrive.

The bivalent boosters will be available for kids at the Fairfax County Government Center and South County Hyland Center vaccine clinics starting tomorrow (Tuesday). Appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are also allowed.

About 14% of kids aged 5 to 11 have gotten a Covid booster since they became eligible in May, according to FCHD data.

The FCHD reports that 85.7% of residents in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as the county, have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, including:

  • 93% of people aged 18 and older
  • 99.5% of 16-17 year olds
  • 95.9% of 12-15 year olds
  • 63.6% of 5-11 year olds
  • 18.6% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years old

After an initial surge, vaccine demand has slowed among families with infants and toddlers, a nationwide trend that worries public health experts. While still low, Fairfax County’s rate for that age group is more than twice as high was the national rate of 9%, FCHD Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said.

“Despite this higher rate, the health department continues to stress the importance of protecting these young children who can suffer severe COVID-19 and who may bring COVID-19 into a family where it can spread to others who may be vulnerable,” Schwartz said.

Overall, 78.1% of the district’s population, or 924,525 people, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including 85.7% of adults.

All Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases, as of Oct. 17, 2022 (via VDH)

The expanded availability of the bivalent boosters comes as the county braces for a possible resurgence of the coronavirus later this fall and winter.

While cases remain relatively low, with the district averaging 160 cases per day for the past week, the first two years of the pandemic saw massive spikes in the disease’s spread during the winter, peaking with a seven-day average of 2,590 cases on Jan. 13, 2022.

Schwartz attributes those previous surges to a combination of new variants, people spending more time indoors, and holiday travel and gatherings.

“We need to remain vigilant and maintain good immunity in the population by staying up to date on vaccination and getting recommended boosters,” he said. “In addition, people who with respiratory symptoms should stay home and away from others and should be tested for COVID-19.”

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention also reported last week that there have been signs of an earlier, more active flu season this year, particularly in the southern and southeastern U.S. Activity in Virginia is already moderate, as of Oct. 8.

Flu season typically peaks in December through February, but “significant activity” can last as late as May, according to the CDC, which recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu shot “ideally by the end of October.”

Notably, kids under 4 years old have accounted for 13.8% of hospital visits for influenza in Virginia so far this year — the largest proportion of any age group, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Caldwell said that trend “aligns with national figures” and urged everyone to get a flu vaccine this fall.

“We don’t want a flu outbreak compounding what we are experiencing with COVID,” Schwartz said.

The Fairfax Health District has recorded 244,081 Covid cases, 5,017 hospitalizations, and 1,659 deaths during the pandemic.

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