With a federal advisory panel’s recent endorsement of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds and authorization expected soon, 10 health care organizations in Yakima County have already collectively preordered several thousand doses.

Local health officials are working through how and when those Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for children will be administered in the county. Those questions came up during the regular monthly Yakima Health District board of health meeting Wednesday.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel’s endorsement of the shots for 5- to 11-year-olds came Tuesday and there are still many questions, said Andre Fresco, executive director of the health district.

“That is a large opportunity for young folks to remain safe, but there is complexity around that and we are working through that as well,” he said. “It’s clear that it’s necessary, but we want to make certain that we have all the approvals in place.”

FDA authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children is expected in the next day or so, said Nathan Johnson, emergency response coordinator for the health district. If the FDA approves, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likely will decide next week whether to recommend the shots and who should get them.

Members of the American College of Immunization Practices will meet about the issue next week, Johnson said, and it will go before the Western States Pact for approval, as well.

“We’re seeing that the approval of ages 5 to 11 specifically for Pfizer will be coming within a couple weeks. (The state Department of Health) has opened up preordering for pediatric doses of Pfizer for our county,” Johnson said. “We have a little over 31,000 community members within that age bracket and we had 10 organizations put in a preorder for the amount of right around 6,900 doses.”

Pediatric doses for Yakima County will be based on a social vulnerability index, population and other factors that played a role when adult vaccines for COVID-19 were first available and in limited supply, Johnson said.

“We don’t know how much of that 6,900 will be approved and we will see in our county,” he added. “But we’re committed to ensuring that we do everything we can to secure as much vaccine as we can to support not only our teams but certainly our health care providers that are still providing vaccine opportunities throughout the county.

“Again we don’t know how (many) doses; we don’t know when those doses will come; we don’t know a lot of the specifics on that. The preorder was open for a very short time,” Johnson said.

The state has ordered 230,000 doses to be delivered to providers next week, according to Michele Roberts, the state Department of Health’s acting assistant secretary. And an additional 86,000 doses are expected to arrive at pharmacies through the federal pharmacy program.

Booster shots

Health care providers on the state and county levels also are moving forward with COVID-19 booster shots. A flurry of related approvals came late last week.

“It’s a little confusing, with a lot coming fairly quickly,” Johnson said.

The Moderna booster is a half dose, while the Pfizer booster is a full dose, he said. Boosters of both brands can be administered six months after the second vaccine dose. The Johnson & Johnson booster is also approved for people age 18 and older two months after they received the initial doses, “and there is also approval for mixing and matching,” Johnson said.

When all boosters were approved by the FDA, CDC and Western States Pact, normally the CDC would create a standing order for them. That hasn’t happened, Johnson said, so the health district’s mobile teams are providing only the Pfizer booster for now. But they hope to begin offering the Moderna booster, and being able to “mix and match” boosters, soon.

“We have seen some health care partners that have already started moving on those new approvals, some as early as Monday this week,” he said. “We hope to have the CDC standing order within the next couple days ... so we can have our mobile teams start applying the new guidance.”

Good news in schools

Ryan Ibach, chief operating officer for the health district, said COVID cases in schools are holding steady right now. Of 1,167 total cases this school year, 33 cases involved exposure in school, according to a report released by the health district on Tuesday.

“We’re still seeing quite a large number in the K-5 grades,” he said.

But it’s mostly positive news when it comes to COVID-19 in schools. Though there were two class closures last week, “we haven’t seen a school closure yet this year, which is good,” Ibach said. Transmission at schools is also low.

The number of hospitalizations in school-age children due to COVID-19 is also down. There were 14 hospitalizations of those up to age 19 last month, which was a record, Ibach said. So far this month there have been three, he added.

It’s been a few weeks since any school sports teams had to be quarantined due to COVID-19, but administrators and coaches are being cautious heading into the winter sports season with high-contact sports such as wrestling and basketball, Ibach said.

$20.9M budget approved

Also Wednesday, health board members approved the proposed budget for 2022. The health district advertised the budget hearing and didn’t get any public input, so the budget hearing was brief.

At $20.9 million the 2022 budget shows a dramatic increase compared to past budgets because of response to COVID-19, officials said. Daily expenses have remained similar to the 2021 budget, they said.

“It’s admittedly a large budget — larger than we’ve ever had — but that’s largely due to COVID,” Fresco said. For example, the 2022 budget includes 11 additional employees specifically for COVID-19 response. And the main increase in overall programs is due to COVID response, said Chase Porter, senior finance manager for the health district.

“We more or less started four programs in response to COVID, mainly to keep those funding sources separate,” he said.

A year ago, health board members unanimously approved the health district’s proposed $7.6 million budget for 2021. They later adopted a budget amendment and so far for this year, the health district has received $9.7 million in revenue and has spent $9.4 million, said Chase Porter, senior finance manager for the health district.

The district has $5 million left for the last three months of this year and is spending about $1.3 million per month, Porter said. “That leaves us about a million in wiggle room, but having these increased services” such as booster shots means he will be keeping an even closer eye on the budget.

Porter is hopeful the district won’t need another budget amendment, but it’s possible. “We’re just spending a lot of money on COVID,” he said.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.

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