Coronavirus Roundup: Vaccines For Tots Coming Soon! (Maybe!)
Photo, Heather Hazzan for Self Magazine, 2019 (hence no mask, shhh you), Creative Commons License 2.0

The Omicron wave continues to kill roughly 2,500 people a day, most of them unvaccinated, and many hospital systems are still nearly full of patients. Total active case numbers have continued to decline, and hospitalization rates are finally starting to decline as well. Deaths, however, have trailed both of those statistics throughout the pandemic, and are still on the rise for now. The best protection against serious disease and death from COVID-19 remains getting vaccinated and boosted, and if you're indoors, by "wearing the most protective mask you can, that fits well and that you will wear consistently." [NYT / CDC]

Vaccine For Kids Under Five May Come Soon, But It's Complicated

Today's big news is that at long last, a coronavirus vaccine for kids under the age of 5 is likely to be approved in the next few weeks, NPR reports. Pfizer BioNTech is expected to file a request for FDA emergency approval for a vaccine dosage for kids aged 6 months to five years. The filing could come as early as today, with approval possible by late this month. But there's a bit of a catch:

Clinical trials last fall showed that the low doses of the vaccine generated protection in children up to 2 years old but failed to do so in kids aged 2-5. The companies announced in December they'd add a third dose to its trials, which would delay the submission to the FDA.

Emergency use authorization could allow children to begin a two-dose regimen, which would prepare children between 2-5 years old to receive a third shot when the data demonstrates it's effective.

As the Washington Post explains, the data so far show that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are safe in two- to five-year-olds, although the effectiveness is "disappointing."

“We know that two doses isn’t enough, and we get that,”said one of the people familiar with the situation. “The idea is, let’s go ahead and start the review of two doses. If the data holds up in the submission, you could start kids on their primary baseline months earlier than if you don’t do anything until the third-dose data comes in.”

The goal, then, is to get the pediatric doses out there, since they do protect the babies and toddlers from six months to two years old, and if the third dose provides sufficient protection, the two- to five-year-olds will already have the first two doses out of the way. Again, nothing has been decided for sure yet. [NPR / WaPo]

Is Xavier Becerra On The Way Out At HHS? We Dunno! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Washington Post reports that "White House officials have grown so frustrated" with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra "that they have openly mused about who mightbe better in the job," although they've also hesitated to call for his ouster because that could be bad politics too. Or at least that's according to "three senior administration officials and two outside advisers with direct knowledge of the conversations." (The Post says it talked to a total of 28 sources, including both critics and defenders of Becerra.)
Not surprisingly, the story adds that both the White House and HHS have denied any tensions, and say everything's fine down here, we're fine, how are you?
“Since day 1, the administration has managed a strong, coordinated COVID-19 response thanks to Secretary Becerra and HHS officials at every level of government,” White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a statement.

The story airs grievances that Becerra hasn't done the job of serving as a "de facto field marshal coordinating the nation’s vast health bureaucracy to achieve the White House’s strategy," along with defenders who say the problem is that Becerra's role hasn't been defined clearly enough for him to be effective in doing that.

One anonymous insider the Post talked to said Becerra “is taking too passive a role in what may be the most defining challenge to the administration,” while an outsider who spoke on the record, name and all, was even more blunt:

“He hasn’t shown up,” said Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute and a prominent covid analyst, adding that Becerra has been “like a ghost” during the pandemic. “An HHS secretary has so much authority and power to help. And we have no evidence that any of it is being exerted.”

Topol, who wrote an editorial in Science magazine this month, saying Becerra had “shirked” responsibilities such as collecting covid data and coordinating his deputies, said he had heard similar concerns from people close to the White House. The secretary has “to step up or step aside,” Topol said.

The biggest gripe is that there hasn't been sufficient coordination of messaging, leading to the impression that different parts of the healthcare bureaucracy just aren't on the same page. Part of that is due to a confusing chain of command, and part of it is due to Biden's insistence that the White House not meddle in The Science the way that the Trump administration had.

The length of the goddamn pandemic has added to the confusion, too, as the Delta and Omicron variants, plus rabid resistance to vaccines, have destroyed any illusions that quickly getting everyone vaccinated would tame the virus.

So is this just infighting and White House Intrigue™? Could be, but it's been clear since last summer's confusion over masking guidelines that the White House's coronavirus strategy could be a lot more unified — not a political lie-fest like it was under Trump, but at least something that gave a clearer sense that the top people were all talking to each other and reaching some kind of consensus. [Washington Post]

Hey Utah, Maybe Require Masks In Schools Instead Of Just Hiring More Subs For Sick Teachers?

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order yesterday that seeks to deal with staff shortages in the state's schools by allowing state employees to use up to 30 hours of paid administrative leave so they can be substitute teachers, or fill in for cafeteria workers or other school staff. It's certainly an innovative way to keep the schools open for in-person classes — each of the state's 22,000 employees could fill in for about four days with that 30-hour leave. But it sure would be helpful if the state legislature would undo its dumb law prohibiting most school mask mandates. Schools can require quarantines for students or employees who test positive, at least, but they can't require masking — not even for folks who test positive and return to school, or who are unvaccinated and exposed to the virus.

“State law prohibits a district from having a mask mandate unless it’s ordered by the county health department or a health order,” Canyons School District Spokesman Jeff Haney told KSL NewsRadio.

Further, any health order needs to be approved by the elected officials who govern that health department. Nobody but a parent can enforce a mask mandate upon a student, in Utah schools.

“It’s really going to be up to parents making the right choice,” said Utah Department of Health spokesman Jenny Johnson. [Emphasis added — Dok Zoom]

Hooray for Freedom! shouted the Omicron variant.

At least the teachers who can't work because they get sick will be replaced by subs who can choose to wear a mask, or not, and everything in Utah will be fine. [Salt Lake Tribune / KSL Radio]

[Photo: Heather Hazzan for Self Magazine, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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