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Vermont children under the age of 5 could become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine as early as this fall, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday.

The commissioner said the Food and Drug Administration will be meeting with the makers of the vaccines — primarily Pfizer and Moderna — and monitoring testing of the vaccines for the youngest children in the coming months. In addition, they are reviewing vaccines geared toward future strains and boosters, he said. The Vermont Department of Health also will be closely watching that work.

Levine said parents of children under 5 should watch for news in June on this front.

“We’ll provide information when we have it, but please remember parents and caregivers should plan to reach out to their pediatrician or family practitioner to get their child vaccinated when the time comes,” he said.

This age group is the last to become eligible for the protective COVID vaccine. Parents of these children have voiced concern about their kids being exposed to — and vulnerable to — the virus at a time all others have access to potentially lifesaving vaccines and boosters.

American Medical Association Director of Science, Medicine and Public Health Andrea Garcia recently said of the under-5 vaccine, “it looks like we are getting closer. I mean, this has certainly been an area of concern and frustration for parents over the delays we’ve seen in having a vaccine for this population.”

She told her organization there are about 18 million children who are younger than 5 in the U.S.

Moderna has asked the FDA to authorize its COVID vaccine for children under 6, the first manufacturer to do so. Pfizer is also putting together an application for the FDA. The {span}FDA then reviews the submitted data and determines if vaccines are safe and effective and if they should be authorized for emergency use. {/span}

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Levine said COVID-19 “is still with us. Just like many other viruses, it’s one we will have to continue to live with.” He said the newest variant — B.A.2.12.1 — currently makes up about 30 percent of the cases in New England, and more than 60 percent in upstate New York.

“This new variant does need additional study to know if and how it could change our understanding” of the virus,” he said. Levine said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes vaccination and at least one booster shot provide protection against the new variant.

He said COVID cases have increased 4 percent this week, with four additional deaths reported Tuesday — to 648 total. Hospitalizations are also up slightly.

In other health news, Levine noted that Tuesday was the first National Fentanyl Awareness Day. He noted that 93 percent of all opioid deaths last year were linked to fentanyl, and added that the deadly synthetic drug is now being mixed with drugs other than heroin, including cocaine and methamphetamine.

“So, please help share this message widely: If you or someone you know are using opioids, cocaine, meth or any other potentially dangerous powder or pill, learn where you can find fentanyl test strips and Narcan. Both are widely available in the state and can be lifesaving.”

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“Help and support ... are available when and where needed,” Levine said.


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