Syringes with doses of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine for children...

Syringes with doses of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 are seen at the Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland. Credit: EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / Salvatore Di Nolfi

A COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5 likely won’t be available until at least late March, Pfizer board member and former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday.

The soonest the Food and Drug Administration would be able to approve such a vaccine would be "at best" late March, especially with the time needed to get it "into the supply chain," Gottlieb told CBS’ "Face the Nation" Sunday.

Children under 5 are the only age group not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, shown to significantly reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death in other age groups.

       WHAT TO KNOW

  • A COVID-19 vaccine for children under age 5 likely won’t be available until at least March, a Pfizer board member said Sunday.
  • Children’s hospitalizations on Long Island have increased by a “tremendous” amount during the omicron variant surge, said Northwell Health’s medical director of the COVID-19 vaccination program
  • New COVID-19 cases on Long Island have dropped by nearly 60% since last Saturday, state data shows

Pfizer said last month it was still conducting scientific trials for small children after the initial two-dose vaccine did not produce adequate immune protection, Gottlieb said.

The pharmaceutical company is reviewing the effectiveness of a three-dose vaccine for children ages 6 months to under 5.

"So I don't think this is something that's going to happen in the next month," Gottlieb said. "Right now, Pfizer and the FDA [are] looking very closely at the data that's accrued to see if they can make a decision around this."

Gottlieb’s comments came after Chief White House Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed hope on Wednesday that the FDA would approve the vaccine within "the next month or so."

Dr. Matthew Harris, Northwell Health’s medical director of the COVID-19 vaccine program, said that as a father of a 4-month-old baby, he is "disappointed" by the delay but is glad officials are following the science.

" … If the data does not yet point to an effective vaccine, I'd rather get the right vaccine out at the right time than a vaccine that is not effective out earlier," Harris said.

Vaccination — of kids under 5 and everyone else — is even more vital during omicron, when the hospital system has seen a "tremendous" increase in the number of children hospitalized with the virus, said Harris, who is also a pediatric emergency room physician. The majority of those kids are under age 5, unvaccinated or immunocompromised, he said.

"Our Children's Hospital has been full. We've been at capacity for many weeks now," Harris said.

About one-third of Northwell’s children’s hospitalizations are due to COVID-19, Harris said. While the "average" pediatric COVID-19 patient comes in for "common" illnesses provoked by the virus — such as dehydration, respiratory distress and an infection of the upper airway known as croup — about one-third of pediatric intensive care patients have the virus, Harris said. That’s compared with about 7% to 9% of adult intensive care patients.

"What I want people to understand is that this is not a benign illness for all children. And we need to protect those who can't protect themselves — mainly the youngest and the large number of children in the area who are immunocompromised," Harris said.

Nationwide, the number of children hospitalized with COVID-19 spiked this winter after staying relatively low and flat during the rest of the pandemic.

DAILY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 8.8%

Suffolk: 10%

Statewide: 7.84%

7-DAY POSITIVITY RATE

Nassau: 11.60%

Suffolk: 13%

Statewide: 10.50%   

Source: New York State Department of Health

In New York, hospital admissions for children with the virus increased sevenfold statewide from the week of Dec. 5-11 to the week of Jan. 2-8, according to a special report released by the state Department of Health earlier this month.

But Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday that new COVID-19 cases in the state dropped from 51,264 to 19,186. That's a decrease of more than 60%.

On Long Island, new cases were down by nearly 60% from a week ago, data shows. Nassau County accounted for 1,102 new cases Saturday, compared with 2,742 last week, data shows. Suffolk had 1,170, down from 2,915.

Still, Nassau and Suffolk had the most new cases of any other county outside New York City, data shows. Long Island’s seven-day positivity rate on Saturday was 12.27%, down from Thursday’s 14.41%, according to the state health department. That’s less than half the Jan. 5 peak of 27%.

About 1,660 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 57% due to the virus, according to the state health department. Twelve Nassau and 11 Suffolk residents died.

"Our hard work to confront the winter surge is paying off, but this is no time to let up," Hochul said in a statement.

Fauci echoed similar sentiments Sunday in an appearance on ABC’s "This Week."

"Things are looking good," Fauci said. "We don't want to get overconfident. But they look like they're going in the right direction right now."

Fauci said he feels "confident as you can be" that the omicron variant of the virus will peak by mid-February in most states.

"If the pattern follows the trend that we're seeing in other places, such as the Northeast, I believe that you will start to see a turnaround throughout the entire country," Fauci said.

With Laura Figueroa Hernandez

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