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While the nation celebrates the anniversary of the COVID vaccine rollout, the newest COVID-19 variant is still awash in unknowns, from the origins of Omicron to any definitives on the variant’s severity. With an Omicron wave set to hit the U.S. imminently, District officials have been stepping up calls and protocols for increased COVID testing and vaccination, particularly for the age group most recently cleared for vaccination.
Starting last week, the city expanded sites where children ages 5 to 11 can get vaccinated along with the rest of their families, including walk-ups at public libraries that previously only served residents 12 and older. The city also added three new vaccination sites and expanded D.C.’s at-home vaccination program to serve people 5 years and older. While data is still limited on the extent to which Omicron can evade two doses of the COVID vaccine, the booster shows signs of effectiveness against the variant.
Santa on the Case
Community initiatives to get children’s vaccinations on residents’ radars are also getting help from Santa. First-time Santa Stuart Anderson, the community engagement director for the Anacostia Coordinating Council, has been lending a newly fashioned baritone voice, classic red and white suit and hat, and belly laugh to Ward 8 holiday events while sprinkling in COVID talk. He tells City Paper he’ll first ask adult family members if they and their children have been vaccinated before mentioning the vaccine to the kids.
“I’m making it playful,” Anderson says. “Being that kind of role model for children. … That’s exactly what it’s been about. It’s been about promoting the vaccine, getting vaccines, being safe during the holidays as well as all of the normal festivities.”
The District hasn’t been doing too shabby with COVID vaccinations. D.C. is among the 10 U.S. states or territories with the highest children’s vaccination rates and top 10 states for adult vaccinations, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But as more knowledge seeps out about what is and isn’t effective against Omicron, the hope is to incentivize more residents to get vaxxed or boosted as potential protection against the new variant, Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George said during a Council call last week. Youth ages 16 and 17 are now part of the group authorized to get a COVID booster.
A Chat with Children’s National Hospital
There have been four Omicron cases detected in D.C. All four cases were in young, vaccinated adult residents. City Paper chatted with Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, director of outreach and emergency room doctor at Children’s National Hospital, about what the DMV-serving center has noticed in the early days of Omicron concern.
While Children’s National Hospital has not yet detected Omicron in any of their COVID-positive patients, the number of daily COVID-positive cases at the center has increased while the number of tests remains steady. Combs notes that back in October, when the Delta variant surge had calmed down, the center was seeing around zero to five positive tests per day for ER patients. These numbers include visits where patients or their families asked for the COVID test as well as those where patients were coming in for non-COVID related concerns but were screened as part of the ER protocol. Starting in November, the ER at Children’s National Hospital is seeing the trend double to upwards of 10 positive cases per day.
Perhaps because Omicron is still new and residents are being judicious about the news they’re consuming as more information rolls out, Combs says she hasn’t gotten a ton of Omicron-specific questions from parents yet. Children and teens are mostly concerned about how much the COVID vaccine will hurt, and parents, while generally sold on the vaccine’s effectiveness, still ask about the vaccine’s long-term safety. Combs reassures parents that, while the COVID vaccine was rolled out relatively quickly, it went through all necessary trials.
Most questions she and other providers have been getting from patients’ families are about holiday gatherings and traveling. In line with federal guidelines, she advises residents to be cautious with traveling long distances and gathering in large numbers. This is particularly the case with a possible Omicron wave, as the variant has been found to be more easily transmissible.
“As far as we can tell, with Omicron, if one person has it, it does—even if the symptoms are mild—transmit well, from the virus’s perspective,” Combs says.
The same strategies Children’s National Hospital and city officials have been encouraging—vaccinations for residents ages 5 and older and boosters for those age 16 and older, frequent hand-washing, masking, precautions when gathering with others—may help abate the effects of this next COVID wave.
“We’ve shown efficacy with [these precautions],” Combs says. “Keep on doing them, try and stay safe this holiday season. We understand wanting to see loved ones, but just temper that with the fact we know there is this new variant out there.”
For D.C. families with questions about the vaccine for kids 5 to 11, apart from asking their children’s doctors, they can tune in to a pediatric vaccination town hall Howard University College of Medicine is hosting tomorrow at 6 p.m.
—Ambar Castillo (tips? firstname.lastname@example.org)
- To see today’s COVID-19 data, visit our coronavirus tracker.
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This holiday season, legendary Baltimore filmmaker, author, and actor, John Waters returns to Alexandria’s Birchmere […]
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