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COVID vaccines for young children now being distributed in Arkansas

Pulaski County Health Unit.jpeg
David Monteith
Arkansas residents can get free COVID-19 vaccines in county health units, like this one in Pulaski County.

Thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccines for children under 5-years-old are being distributed in Arkansas. The state Department of Health said 150,000–200,000 children in Arkansas are now eligible to receive either vaccine.

On Friday, the federal Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna for children as young as 6-months-old. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed the FDA announcement with the recommendation that parents vaccinate children in that age group.

“All children, including children who have already had COVID-19, should get vaccinated,” the CDC said in a statement.

The Moderna vaccine for children 6 months to 17-years-old is a two-dose series, with a minimum of one month between doses. The vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech for children ages 6 months to 4-years-old is three-dose series.

Arkansas Department of Health’s Medical Director for Child and Adolescent Health Dr. Joel Tumlison recommends parents talk with their medical providers about getting their children vaccinated to determine which of the vaccines is most appropriate. Dosages of the vaccine are lower for young children, but, according to the FDA, the immune responses and side effects for kids under 5 were comparable to that of people under age 25.

“Maybe some achiness, maybe some fatigue,” Tumlison said. “The really young ones, they’re going to be more fatigued, maybe they don’t eat as well. Even less commonly, fever.”

He added that there were no cases of pericarditis or myocarditis — side effects affecting the heart muscle — in clinical trials of the age group. The trials for younger children were conducted during a period when the omicron variant, the strain currently responsible for most current infections in Arkansas, was the dominant strain.

Dr. Gary Wheeler, with the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a former chief medical officer for the state Department of Health, strongly recommends vaccinating eligible children. He said that could help prevent resurgences of the virus.

“There are other reasons to immunize children. Children are very, very good at spreading infection. This is the last group in the population that we haven’t been able to immunize, but if we can immunize them, then they’re ability to spread infection will drop significantly.”

Latest COVID-19 cases in Arkansas

Active cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have risen steadily over the past several weeks, driven by highly transmissible omicron subvariants. On Monday there was a decline in most measurements of COVID-19. The Department of Health’s website said the number of active cases declined by 456 since Sunday. Hospitalizations fell by 15, with 181 people being treated.

No additional deaths were reported, but 251 new cases were reported Monday, which is below the same day last week when there were 332 new infections. Tumlison said the drop in numbers is likely due to less testing being done over the Juneteenth holiday weekend.

David Monteith worked as a reporter for KUAR News between 2015 and July 2022.
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