On the eve of a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee meeting regarding approval of the Pfizer vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, COVID-19 cases in Boone County for children and teens are down from September cases by more than half.

As of Friday, 187 cases within residents 19 and younger had been recorded for October so far, according to the Columbia/Boone County Health and Human Services Department. That is compared to 442 cases in September and a peak of 465 in August. The late-summer peak coincided with spread of the delta variant.

The number of children hospitalized for COVID has also decreased, from 20 in August, to 13 in September and eight in October as of Monday.

The number of pediatric hospitalizations for August and September are different from those included in past Missourian reporting. The difference comes from a change of metrics by MU Health Care, which previously only counted patients admitted directly to an MU hospital and now includes transfer patients as well.

MU Health Care pediatrician Chris Wilhelm said he and his colleagues would have predicted an increase in cases throughout the fall as schools opened, sports resumed and community activity returned to normal.

Instead, pediatricians have observed the opposite.

Wilhelm said the mid-Missouri medical community is not sure exactly what has allowed for such a decrease, but he cited mask mandates and other school safety measures, as well as a slow increase in vaccination among people 12 and older, as potential factors.

The Food and Drug Administration posted a positive analysis of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for elementary school-age children Friday and has an advisory panel meeting scheduled for Tuesday prior to a final decision.

The availability of vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds is anticipated as early as the first week of November. That means kids included in the first round of shots could be fully protected by Christmas.

Once the vaccine is approved, Wilhelm said he will recommend it to all of his patients 5 and older.

The more kids who get vaccinated, the more he’d expect case numbers to decline, he said.

However, he also made it clear that this decline is not absolute.

“We can see a spike at any time, and we just have to continue to be diligent,” he said. “If there was a new variant that pops up, that would be a major concern.”

As a community, Wilhelm said, “we shouldn’t let our guard down.”

He encouraged local residents to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask recommendations, continue staying home if they feel sick and get vaccinated, not only for COVID but also for the flu.

With similar symptoms — fever, cough, congestion — influenza and COVID can appear similarly upon diagnosis prior to testing, he said.

“If you get your flu shot, that will help protect people, obviously, from getting the flu,” Wilhelm said. “But it's also easier to help us diagnose what's going on with patients, because they got their flu shot and they've been protected from it.”

RSV also on decline

Case numbers of another respiratory virus, commonly known as RSV, have also gone down in Missouri since August.

As of Oct. 16, there was a five-week average of 45 RSV cases detected by rapid tests and approximately 66 cases detected by polymerase chain reaction tests, according to the CDC. That is compared to approximately 77 cases via rapid test and 75 cases via PCR test the week of Sept. 11.

With RSV traditionally occurring most heavily from January to March, the state case numbers, despite decline, are still unseasonable. Wilhelm said he hasn't seen anything like this in over 20 years as a pediatrician.

He predicted the off-season spike occurred because daycares weren't open last winter. The year's RSV infection wasn't able to run its course at the typical time and instead began in late summer and is now tapering out.

But just as with COVID, Wilhelm said cases could pick back up at any time, and parents, especially those of kids at higher risk, should stay vigilant.

"Even though the numbers are down, we shouldn't let our guard down," he said.

  • K-12 Education reporter, studying investigative journalism and sociology. Reach me at jessicablakereports@gmail.com, on Twitter @JessicaEBlake or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

  • Assistant city editor, spring 2021. Studying print and digital news journalism. Reach me at skylarlaird@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720.

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