White House Outlines Effort to Vaccinate Young as Schools Start to Reopen

FRIDAY, Aug. 6, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Worried about low vaccination rates among the young as the new school year looms, the White House on Thursday unveiled a new initiative to get shots into the arms of more students.

The push will include enlisting pediatricians to make COVID-19 vaccination part of back-to-school sports physicals and encouraging schools to host vaccination clinics.

The initiative was announced by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona as part of a broader "return to school roadmap," aimed at getting students back in the classroom for learning this fall.

The vaccination push comes as schools around the country are beginning to reopen. Starting on Saturday, text chains and phone banks will encourage vaccination for the young, although experts and school superintendents told The New York Times that boosting vaccination rates among students may be a tall order.

The Pfizer vaccine was authorized for people aged 12 and older in May, but young people remain far less likely than older adults to have gotten their shots. Only 40.2% of 12- to 15-year-olds and 50.6% of 16- to 17- year olds have received at least one dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency said last week it wanted in-person schooling to resume across the country and called for universal mask use by students, staff and visitors in schools, regardless of their vaccination status or the rate of community transmission of the virus.

"Children should return to full-time, in-person learning in the fall, with proper prevention strategies in place," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a news briefing.

The administration is focusing on school athletics as an important path to vaccination. Millions of American students play organized sports, and some school officials are making the case that if student athletes get vaccinated, they can avoid quarantining — and forfeiting their games — if they are exposed to an infected person, the Times reported.

To that end, a White House official said on the condition of anonymity that the administration has enlisted the help of various groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, to put out guidance for doctors and to update school physical forms. Cardona and Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, plan to visit a school vaccination clinic in Kansas next week, Cardona said.

But some school officials are finding that persuading parents to get their students vaccinated is a difficult task.

"For people who are for it, it's an easy one — they support vaccination as a strong strategy to fight COVID, and they don't see any issue with the use of public space," Kristi Wilson, superintendent of the Buckeye Elementary School District, near Phoenix, told the Times. She recently wrapped up a term as president of AASA: The School Superintendents Association, which represents 13,000 school superintendents across the country.

"But the other side I'm hearing is that, 'Where do you draw the line? Who's going to administer it? Even if public health does it, is it an appropriate use of space?' If you have a community that is very anti-vaccination, how do you manage that?" she said.

Moderna Says Vaccine's Protection Holds After 6 Months

Moderna Inc. announced on Thursday that the potency of its vaccine does not dim in the first six months after the second dose.

The news came in a statement that contained little data, but the findings may comfort the 63 million Americans who have received two doses of the Moderna vaccine as the highly contagious Delta variant rips through swaths of the country where vaccination rates are low.

Moderna's report came from a new analysis of its ongoing clinical trial, which started in late July 2020 and recruited 30,000 volunteers. Last November, the company announced that the vaccine had an impressive efficacy of 94.1 percent. That effectiveness didn't drop much after six months, the company reported Thursday.

"We are pleased that our COVID-19 vaccine is showing durable efficacy of 93 percent through six months, but recognize that the Delta variant is a significant new threat so we must remain vigilant," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in the statement.

However, it wasn't clear whether the trial data extended into more recent months when the Delta variant became dominant, the Times reported.

In June, Moderna detailed an experiment in which its researchers tested antibodies from people who received their vaccine against the Delta variant. They found the antibodies were moderately less effective at blocking the variant from infecting cells.

Last week, Pfizer reported that its vaccine's durability also held up after six months. The vaccine's efficacy started at 96.2% for the first two months after the second dose, and dropped to 83.7 percent at six months.

The FDA is expected to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine in September. Moderna filed for final approval of its vaccine on June 1, and expects to complete its submission in August, the Times reported.

Moderna said in its statement Thursday that in lab experiments of human blood cells, booster shots increased the number of coronavirus antibodies, suggesting that if its vaccine does weaken in future months, a booster would shore up protection. Moderna's clinical trials have also shown robust antibody responses after booster shots, the company added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCES: The New York Times

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