FDA approves booster shots for children as young as 12, as NC COVID cases rise in the New Year

COVID-19 reliefThe Food and Drug Administration has expanded its approval of COVID booster shots for 12-15 year-olds.

Monday’s approval of Pfizer’s vaccine by the FDA comes as the omicron variant continues its rapid post-holiday spread across the country.

“With the current wave of the omicron variant, it’s critical that we continue to take effective, life-saving preventative measures such as primary vaccination and boosters, mask wearing and social distancing in order to effectively fight COVID-19,” said acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in a press release.

In making the decision, the FDA reviewed data from more than 6,300 individuals 12 through 15 years of age who received a booster dose of the vaccine.

In its announcement Monday, the FDA also noted that it would be updating the booster interval to five months after a second Pfizer dose, noting no new safety concerns for this age group.

The agency also gave its approval to a third primary dose for children 5-11 years of age, who have undergone organ transplant or who have certain serious immunocompromised conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory committee is expected to weigh-in on Pfizer boosters for those under 15 later this week.

On Monday the NC Department of Health and Human Services reported nearly 13,000 new COVID cases with more than 27% of tests conducted coming back positive for the virus.

There are 2,722 individuals currently hospitalized across North Carolina with COVID, a more than 10% increase since New Year’s Eve.

For the final week of 2021, North Carolina administered 51,767 COVID vaccines.

From high stakes in higher education to the very best political cartoons: A final look back at 2021

If you were fortunate to have the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off, you missed out on Policy Watch’s reflection of the top stories from the past 12 months.

Don’t worry, we have you covered.

Here’s a final look back at 2021 with reporters Joe Killian, Greg Childress, Lynn Bonner and cartoonist John Cole:

Incoming Health Secretary: Get vaccinated, gather carefully. More than 18,000 COVID cases recorded in single day.

Incoming NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley

[Editor’s note: On the final day of 2021, North Carolina recorded 19,174 newly reported cases of COVID-19. Nearly 23% of tests statewide are returning positive with 2,387 individuals hospitalized.]

North Carolina health officials expected COVID cases to rise over the holidays. But many did not expected to see the numbers reported on Thursday.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recorded 18,571 positive tests for COVID-19 on its dashboard. That is 60% higher than the previous one-day record (11,581) set back in January of this year.

While the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may cause less severe illness for people who are vaccinated, the number of individuals currently hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly doubled since the beginning of December.

Currently 89% of people in North Carolina’s intensive care units being treated for COVID are unvaccinated.

Because hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, incoming NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley says officials are concerned hospitals will be under a greater strain as we head into the New Year. (Kinsley replaces Sec. Mandy Cohen in January.)

“We are concerned that even a very small proportion of these cases ending up in the hospital could overwhelm our hospital system and increase the loss of lives of those most vulnerable,” said Kinsley in a press release Thursday.

“Everyone can help save lives and protect hospital capacity by getting vaccinated if you haven’t already and getting boosted if you are eligible.”

Sixty-three percent of state’s total population has been vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Those in the 5-11 year-old age group are among the least vaccinated.

Ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebrations officials are also encouraging North Carolinians to keep their gatherings small. Host are encouraged to consider holding their gatherings outside.

If you gather indoors, it’s recommended you leave room for responsible social distancing, open the windows or doors to improve ventilation, and consider wearing masks.

And while lines have been long this week, NCDHHS has been working with local governments to increase community testing. Visit ncdhhs.gov/gettested for a list of testing sites.

Health officials advise if your local testing site is full, and you can’t get an immediate appointment, try an alternate testing site.

Source: NCDHHS

Positive cases of COVID surge across NC after holiday gatherings

North Carolina is getting its first look at COVID-19 numbers since the Christmas holiday. Data released on Tuesday showed nearly 3,700 new cases with 1,992 people currently hospitalized.

The percentage of positive cases being returned is a startling 21.9%. That more than 1 in 5 tests coming back positive.

On Christmas Day, nearly 6,900 new cases of the coronavirus were recorded in our state.

Sixty-nine percent of North Carolina’s adult population is fully vaccinated. The week of December 19th the state administered 21,534 first doses of the COVID vaccine.

And while many sites are reporting steady traffic after the holiday, here’s where you can find a testing location for COVID-19.

For a closer look at the spread of the virus, check out the NCDHHS dashboard below.

Pandemic rental relief program ends application process Friday

Time to apply for the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program closes out this evening at 6 p.m. With much of the available federal funding committed to current applicants, the program is expected to exhaust its remaining funding this week.

Here are five fast facts about the program that has promoted housing stability since the early days of the pandemic:

  • To date, the NC Hope program has awarded $744 million. That funding is provided to the state through U.S. Department of Treasury Coronavirus Relief Fund allocations and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
  • 148,939 North Carolina households have been helped through the program
  • $585 million has already been paid directly to landlords and utility companies across North Carolina
  • The U.S. Department of Treasury ranked the NC HOPE Program as No. 3 in the nation for number of households served
  • North Carolina is not alone in it’s need to end the program. Texas and Oregon have also announced plans to close their rental assistance programs due to a substantial increase in applications since the Thanksgiving holiday.

Renters experiencing financial hardship in the 88 counties served by HOPE should apply for assistance at www.HOPE.NC.gov or by calling 888-9ASK-HOPE (888-927-5467) by 6:00 p.m. this Friday, Dec. 17.

Laura Hogshead is director of the N.C. Office of Recovery and Resiliency, which administers the HOPE Program.