Pfizer seeks to expand omicron booster to 5- to 11-year-olds

Pfizer is asking the Food and Drug Administration to expand use of its updated COVID-19 booster shot to children ages 5 to 11.

Some 4.4 million Americans already have received one of the updated boosters since they rolled out earlier this month for anyone 12 and older.

Just like with Pfizer’s original vaccine, the elementary school-aged children would get a third of the dose of the updated booster.

The FDA is expected to decide soon.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech also announced Monday that they have begun a study of the updated booster in children younger than 5.

Washington state employees likely to get $1,000 bonuses for COVID booster

SEATTLE (AP) — Under a tentative deal Washington state employees would get $1,000 bonuses for receiving a COVID-19 booster shot.

The Seattle Times reports the agreement between the state and the Washington Federation of State Employees also includes 4% pay raises in 2023 and 3% pay raises in 2024.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced this month that all pandemic emergency orders will end by Oct. 31, including state vaccine mandates for health care and education workers. But he has said a vaccine mandate will continue to be in effect for workers at most state agencies.

The union called the deal, which still must be approved by both sides, the highest compensation package in the union’s history.

▶️ Deschutes Co. Fairgrounds reopen COVID-19 vaccine clinic for new booster

The Deschutes County Fairgrounds reopened its COVID-19 vaccination clinic Wednesday. The reopening comes after the release of the bivalent booster shot, meant to protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron strains. 

“The updated booster will be the best way to protect ourselves and those around us from severe illness and hospitalization caused by the dominant BA.5 and BA.4 COVID-19 subvariants,” Oregon State Epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said.

RELATED: New COVID booster in Oregon, but will you get boosted again?

The indoor clinic also offers all pediatric vaccines and the novavax vaccine. No appointment or proof of insurance is necessary. Only a vaccine card is required and all vaccines are free.

Side effects may include flu like symptoms such as fatigue or fever, and soreness of the arm where the shot was administered. None of these effects are expected to last more than 12 hours.

“They’re self-limited and will go away,” Dr. Sidelinger said. “It’s much better than going through COVID-19 as an infection.”

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) warns of a more vigorous flu season after forecasting through the southern hemisphere’s winter months.

“So with wearing masks, keeping our distance and staying home behaviors, influenza did not circulate in Oregon or other states nearly as vigorously in the past couple seasons,”  Sidelinger said. “What we’ve seen especially in Australia is cases of influenza and hospitalizations of influenza have been much higher this season. This helps us forecast what we could expect in Oregon and across the U.S.”

OHA recommends people get both the new bivalent COVID booster along with their seasonal flu shot to help protect against what is predicted to come this fall and winter.

▶️ New COVID booster in Oregon, but will you get boosted again?

Oregon has ordered 77,500 doses of the latest COVID-19 vaccine booster and they should be available at your local pharmacy soon. The Oregon Health Authority is urging people to get the newest shot when it is available.

This injection targets the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants specifically. 

Moderna and Pfizer have both had their versions of the booster “approved for use” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by the Food and Drug Administration.

Moderna’s will be available to those 18 years old and older. Pfizer’s is for those 12 years old and up. 

Both can be taken two months after receiving the second dose of the COVID vaccine. 

RELATED: US clears updated COVID boosters targeting newest variants

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The big question is: Who will take another COVID booster?

Central Oregon Daily News went to Drake Park in Bend and asked people.

Some are not too keen on the idea.

“I’ve had COVID four times and I’m double vaccinated, so I don’t really think it did much for me,” said Andrew Chalmers.

“I never took any of the shots. So, in my near future, I don’t see myself taking any shots,” said Ray of Bend. 

Others are very willing to get another shot.

“I’m willing to get a second booster. I believe in vaccines,” said Socorro, an RN. “I believe if we get vaccinated and we get protected, we can stop or lower the cases of COVID.”

“Yes, I will take it, probably not immediately. I just got my third booster in July so I’ll let that wear down a little bit but definitely plan to take it,” said Stephen Saltzman. 

And we found one man who won’t be the first in line to get it, but he’s not opposed to it. 

“I have been vaccinated and I also had COVID, and it’s just not something I’m super concerned about at the moment. But I’m also open to adding that extra layer of protection if it’s necessary,” said Grant Peck. 

The OHA says it expects the new boosters to meet demand. Shipments have already been coming in and the shots will be available as soon as your local pharmacy receives them, which should be soon.

US clears updated COVID boosters targeting newest variants

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. regulators have authorized updated COVID-19 boosters, the first to directly target today’s most common omicron strain.

The move on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration tweaks the recipe of shots made by Pfizer and rival Moderna.

The hope is that the modified boosters will blunt yet another winter surge. Until now, vaccines have targeted the original coronavirus.

The new boosters are half that original recipe and half protection against the newest omicron versions.

Before shots begin, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must recommend who should get the additional dose. CDC’s advisers will debate that Thursday.

RELATED: Pfizer COVID shots appear 73% effective in children under 5

RELATED: COVID-19: Central Oregon looks much different than 1 year ago

Oregon holding ‘North Star goal’ of in-person instruction for school year

Oregon’s top epidemiologist says the state should receive supplies of COVID-19 vaccine boosters designed to attack the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, as well as the original strain, this fall.

The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Department of Education held a briefing Wednesday ahead of the 2022-23 school year. It was a chance for teachers, parents and students to learn where Oregon stands in terms of the pandemic after two disrupted school years.

ODE Director Colt Gill said “we are holding strong to our North Star goal of providing equitable access to in-person instruction all day, every school day, for every student.”

Dean Sidelinger, health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA, said COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen since July. 

RELATED: COVID-19: Central Oregon looks much different than 1 year ago

RELATED: CDC drops quarantine, screening recommendations for COVID-19

Sdelinger is encouraging families to schedule COVID-19 and routine childhood vaccinations.

“The immunization schedule is designed to provide immunity early in life, before children are likely to be exposed to diseases,” said Sidelinger.

He also urged those who are eligible for a booster to get one.

ODE says it has provided a list of resources for schools including COVID-19 planning documents, the Care and Connection tools and Oregon Classroom WISE, a suite of free print and video resources, guided tutorials, role plays, and interviews with youth and school personnel to support the mental and emotional well-being of students and school staff.

Jill Biden tests positive for COVID-19, has ‘mild’ symptoms

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — First lady Jill Biden has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing “mild symptoms.”  The White House announced it on Tuesday.

The first lady has been vacationing with President Joe Biden in South Carolina and began experiencing symptoms Monday.

She has been prescribed the antiviral drug Paxlovid and will isolate at the vacation home for at least five days.

Joe Biden tested negative for the virus on Tuesday morning but will wear a mask indoors for 10 days in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

The president recovered from a rebound case of the virus Aug. 7.

The Bidens have been twice-vaccinated and twice-boosted with the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

RELATED: Biden tests positive for COVID-19, has ‘mild symptoms’

RELATED: COVID-19: Central Oregon looks much different than 1 year ago

▶️ COVID-19: Central Oregon looks much different than 1 year ago

Compared to the past two years, this summer has looked pretty normal.  Mask mandates and vaccine requirements are scarce and Central Oregon is about to begin the first full school year without masks since the pandemic began.

But the region still faces lingering effects. 

This week last year, Central Oregon and the rest of the state faced some major shakeups when it came to COVID. 

Locally, St. Charles broke the then-record for COVID-19 hospitalizations with 62 patients. The Redmond School Board began to consider the option of putting forth a resolution that would push back against the mask mandate in schools. 

On a state level, Gov. Kate Brown issued another statewide indoor mask mandate as Oregon dealt with the contagious delta variant. 

She also ordered that K-12 teachers be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, and deployed the Oregon National Guard to assist in the state’s hospitals, including St. Charles

“That wasn’t a happy place,” said Dr. Cynthia Maree, an Infectious Disease Expert with St. Charles. “It was a hard time. I think it’s about the time we started to get called into emergency meetings to stand up an emergency care center to deal with the capacity issues in our emergency department.”

This year, it’s a lighter load in some ways. 

“On average, we’ve had about 20 COVID patients in a bed on any given day,” said Senior Data Scientist Dr. Mike Johnson from St. Charles. “That is coming down, thankfully, from what it has been in the recent past.”

RELATED: CDC drops quarantine, screening recommendations for COVID-19

RELATED: Central Oregon schools see staffing relief ahead of 1st post-pandemic year

“We’re doing much better this year than we were last year, and a lot of it’s not because of our own doing,” he added. “It’s because of the natural course of the virus.” 

Maree added that the lower hospital numbers and lesser restrictions mean elective surgeries are far more available now. 

But COVID still casts a sobering shadow. More people are dying of COVID now than they were two months ago. 

“We’re on track to have about as many patients as we had in May, but we’re on track to have three times as many deaths as we had in May,” Johnson said. “So even though the numbers are small, we’re on track to have 10 people die in the hospital from COVID this month. So it’s not going away. This new variant is being very crafty and evading immunizations, and it kind of does what it wants.” 

Across Deschutes County, there are actually more positive COVID cases recorded this year than last year.

There were 357 new cases between July 31 and August 6 2021 versus 517 new cases from July 30 to August 5 of this year.

Deschutes County COVID-19 program manager Emily Horton said the nature of the latest variant is the main culprit for the higher numbers. 

“The BA.5 variant that we’re seeing now is incredibly contagious, so we know it moves through the population relatively quickly,” she said. “I would also say our numbers are higher than are even reported, because many people are taking at-home tests and they don’t report those to the county.”

In schools this year, teachers are still required to have proof of vaccination. But now, masks are a thing of the past, as well as distancing and quarantine protocols. 

Despite any COVID number fluctuations, the largest change has been resources. 

“I feel like there is a bit of a sigh of relief that we know what’s going on with COVID, we have been dealing with our processes for two years now, we have vaccines that are effective, we have treatments that are effective,” Maree said. 

The hospital expects a BA.5-specific vaccine to be approved sometime this fall.

Deschutes County plans to continue hosting free vaccine clinics across the county indefinitely. 

CDC drops quarantine, screening recommendations for COVID-19

NEW YORK (AP) — The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others.

The changes, which come more than 2 1/2 years after the start of the pandemic, are driven by a recognition that an estimated 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either from being vaccinated or infected, agency officials said.

“The current conditions of this pandemic are very different from those of the last two years,” said the CDC’s Greta Massetti, an author of the guidelines.

Many places around the country long ago abandoned social distancing and other once-common precautions, but some of the changes could be particularly important for schools, which resume classes this month in many parts of the country.

Perhaps the biggest education-related change is the end of the recommendation that schools do routine daily testing, although that practice can be reinstated in certain situations during a surge in infections, officials said.

The CDC also dropped a “test-to-stay” recommendation, which said students exposed to COVID-19 could regularly test — instead of quarantining at home — to keep attending school. With no quarantine recommendation anymore, the testing option disappeared too.

Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is deemed high, or if a person is considered at high risk of severe illness.

School districts across the U.S. have scaled back their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks even before the latest guidance was issued. Some have promised a return to pre-pandemic schooling.

Masks will be optional in most districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have dialed back or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.

CDC endorses more traditional Novavax COVID shot for adults

Health officials say U.S. adults who haven’t gotten any COVID-19 shots yet should consider a new option from Novavax.

The protein-based shot is a more traditional kind of vaccine than the three brands available in the U.S. Federal regulators authorized the two-dose vaccine last week for adults.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unanimously recommended the option on Tuesday and the agency agreed.

The Maryland-based company hopes the U.S. also clears booster doses and teen use fairly soon.

RELATED: COVID cases on the rise; Children among least vaccinated group