As Marin prepares this week to begin vaccinating the county’s 8,000 youngest residents, the county announced the arrival of the new, more contagious BA.5 omicron variant.
“Two samples obtained during the first week of June shows that the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is increasing globally, now is present in Marin,” said Dr. Matt Willis, the Marin County public health officer. “This variant is characterized by increased infectivity compared to previous omicron strains.”
Willis said the BA.5 variant might be the reason why Marin’s COVID-19 case rate has plateaued in recent days, even though the peak of the previously dominant strain, BA.2, was a month ago.
“There is no evidence currently that BA.5 causes more severe illness than other variants,” Willis said. “As the virus continues to evolve, the best way to protect ourselves is to stay up to date with vaccines and boosters.”
Willis made his comments as federal and state agencies approved two types of vaccines for children younger than 5.
Pediatricians in Marin are expected to have the vaccine for the youngest age group by Thursday. Appointment scheduling at various Marin health centers and public clinics will open up online this week on the MyTurn.ca.gov appointment system, according to the county public health website at GetVaccinatedMarin.org.
Laine Hendricks, a county spokesperson, said at least three county clinics are planned Thursday through Saturday. Kaiser Permanente’s pediatric center is expected to begin vaccinations on Friday, Hendricks said.
Parents and guardians may also reach out to their pediatricians directly to discuss vaccination options and to schedule an appointment, Willis said.
The county will host a training next week “for Marin’s pediatricians and primary care providers to provide them with up-to-date information — including findings from clinical trials,” Dr. Lisa Santora, said Marin’s deputy public health officer.
“Marin County Public Health will be also hosting a community forum — likely the first week of July — to share information on the safety, efficacy and benefits of COVID vaccination,” Santora said. “Our goal is for Marin parents and families to have evidence-based information to make an informed choice about pediatric COVID vaccines.”
The two types of pediatric vaccines will be available.
The Moderna version, for children from 6 months to 5 years old, consists of two doses, one month apart. Each dose is one-quarter the strength of an adult Moderna dose. The two-dose regimen is said to be about 40% to 50% effective in preventing infection, according to Willis.
The Pfizer version, for children from 6 months to 4 years old, is a course of three shots over 11 weeks. The first two doses are three weeks apart, with the third dose eight weeks later. Each dose is one-tenth of an adult dose. The Pfizer vaccine is said to be 80% effective after the final third dose, with some protection starting after the second dose, Willis said
According to Willis, side effects from either type of vaccine have been minimal during clinical trials. The most frequent have been “fussiness, sleepiness or pain at the injection site,” Willis said.
“No child got any heart condition side effects, such as myocarditis,” he said.
Aideen Gaidmore, executive director of the Marin Child Care Council, cheered the pediatric vaccine rollout.
“With 140 child care centers and 150 licensed family child care homes in the county all serving our youngest children, we know how important it is to be able to provide a safe vaccine for these children,” Gaidmore said.
“Our child care settings have remained open for the past two years during this pandemic, knowing that young children were still at risk,” she said. “That also meant the teachers and caregivers were putting themselves at risk by remaining open and serving young children and their families.”
Willis said that while small children are at less risk for severe illness from a COVID-19 infection, “less risk doesn’t mean no risk,” he said.
“More than 500 children 5 and under have died from COVID-19 in the U.S.,” he said.
In the past month, 113 Marin children age 4 and younger have been reported to be infected, Willis said.
“We know that’s a significant underestimate,” Willis said.
Vaccination “will make every place that kids gather this summer safer for kids and for adults,” he said.
“That includes child care centers, summer camps, play dates and parties,” he said.