KDHE broadening eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations, boosters for children

Updated: Jan 7

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment and federal officials approved wider use of COVID-19 vaccinations for children as the omicron and delta variants continue to spread and Douglas County adopts a mask mandate for people 2 years or older when indoors at public spaces. (Photo by Stephen Zenner/Getty Images)

TOPEKA — Kansas and federal public health officials Thursday expanded eligibility for the Pfizer booster shot to 36,000 children between the ages 12 to 15, while moderately or severely immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11 received permission to get an additional primary dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment authorized more than 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine providers across Kansas to begin administering the booster shot and additional primary dose to eligible populations.

Under the Pfizer booster advisory, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as KDHE said it could be offered to the 12-15 age group five months after the individual completed the primary series. KDHE said 36,400 of the 68,400 children who had the Pfizer primary series of shots were eligible for the booster.

“It has been proven that that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective and is the best tool to protect you and your loved ones from serious illness, hospitalization and death,” said Janet Stanek, acting secretary at KDHE. “Our hospitals continue to report that the large majority of patients hospitalized with COVID, particularly those on ventilators, are not vaccinated.”

The Pfizer waiting period for a booster was reset at five months, but the wait for a Johnson & Johnson booster remained at two months and the pause before a Moderna vaccine booster stayed at six months.

Adjustment of eligibility for an additional primary dose for immunocompromised children followed approval by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and CDC.

Angela Myers, a pediatrician at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., said she was pleased boosters for kids 12 and older were available. She said boosters for children as young as 5 could be available in the next few months. Side effects to these vaccines are extremely rare for kids, she said.

“Just like in adult hospitals, the kids who are being hospitalized for COVID are unvaccinated,” Myers said on the University of Kansas Health System broadcast interview Thursday. “We are not seeing unvaccinated kids being hospitalized for COVID-19.”

Food aid extended

Meanwhile, the Kansas Department for Children and Families announced continuation of emergency food stamp assistance benefits to currently eligible participants. DCF’s order extended the maximum monthly benefit for 63,000 needy households at a cost of $14.5 million per month.

The supplemental food allotment will be effective in Kansas until July 31 or until the federal declaration of of public health emergency due to COVID-19 expired.

“Our goal at DCF is to protect children and strengthen families,” said DCF secretary Laura Howard. “The extension of the emergency food assistance benefits will help ensure Kansas families continue to have access to healthy groceries and basic necessities.”

People interested in applying for government food assistance can visit the the DCF website at www.dcf.ks.gov.

Douglas County masks

Thomas Marcellino, health officer in Douglas County, said a public health order would require face coverings for people ages 2 or older when inside public spaces in the county. The directive taking effect Friday was designed to help the community deal with escalation of delta and omicron cases of COVID-19 and the onslaught of influenza cases.

Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health reported 1,500 active cases of coronavirus in the county as of Monday. The 14-day average of new cases in the county reached a record 89 cases per day.

“We recognize this pandemic has taken a deep toll and the community is weary. Unfortunately, the virus rages on,” Marcellino said. “Now is the time we must act to protect our community from a potential crisis.”

Russ Johnson, president and chief executive officer of LMH Health in Lawrence, said the inpatient volume had increased to a level not reached since beginning of the pandemic in 2020. He said hospitals would be challenged by climbing demand for health care due to limited staff.

“With this in mind, our physicians and hospital leadership support an indoor mask mandate,” Johnson said. “Masking will help slow the spread of COVID, influenza and other respiratory viruses in our community.”

The emergency public health order in Douglas County was issued by Marcellino and Shannon Portillo, chair of the Douglas County Commission.

This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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