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DHEC prepares for pediatric COVID-19 vaccination as soon as early November

South Carolina’s assistant state epidemiologist began the weekly COVID-19 briefing with...
South Carolina’s assistant state epidemiologist began the weekly COVID-19 briefing with questions about the recent death of retired Gen. Colin Powell, who died of COVID-19 complications despite being fully vaccinated.(Drew Aunkst)
Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 1:30 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 20, 2021 at 3:08 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina’s assistant state epidemiologist began the weekly COVID-19 briefing with questions about the recent death of retired Gen. Colin Powell, who died of COVID-19 complications despite being fully vaccinated.

Dr. Jane Kelly said Powell’s death Monday at age 84 has rekindled questions about how a fully vaccinated person could still die from COVID-19.

Powell’s longtime aide, Peggy Cifrino, said Monday that he was treated over the past few years for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that impairs the body’s ability to fight infection. Studies have shown that those cancer patients don’t get as much protection from the COVID-19 vaccines as healthier people.

“As our DHEC data and national data continue to show, breakthrough cases and breakthrough deaths from COVID-19 are rare. However, they occur, just as breakthrough cases occur with every vaccine-preventable disease because no vaccine is 100% effective,” she said.

Kelly said that DHEC data shows that of the 120 breakthrough deaths that occurred in fully-vaccinated people in September for whom they were able to determine vaccination status, all but four, or 96.7%, had pre-existing conditions.

“Colin Powell had a pre-existing condition. He was immunocompromised as he had multiple myeloma, which is a malignancy of the immune system that can make your body less effective in fighting infection,” Kelly said. “This made him incredibly more susceptible to COVID-19 than a healthy person.”

She speculated that if everyone Powell had come in contact with been vaccinated and if community disease rate levels were low, there’s “a good chance” he wouldn’t have been infected with COVID-19 and would still be alive today.

“It’s a prime example of how an individual’s actions affect others,” she said.

DHEC prepares for first vaccine orders for younger people

Kelly said based on when an immunization practices advisory committee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meets, the earliest official guidelines about pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations would come by the end of the day on Nov. 4.

But, she said, as of now, DHEC can begin putting orders for pediatric vaccine doses for children between the ages of 5 and 11 years old into the system with the expectation of receiving their first orders within the first five days of November.

“So while we are prepared, it is important to remember the timeline is not set in stone,” she said.

Fall surge like 2020′s ‘unlikely,’ Kelly says

She addressed a question about the possibility that this year could see a similar surge in new COVID-19 cases and deaths after Halloween like 2020 did.

“We may have an increase, you know holidays, people are traveling, people are coming from out of state, they’re exposed to a greater number of people. They are more gatherings indoors. The weather gets colder, people spend more time inside than outside,” she said. “But we are trying to get that message out to try and diminish that as much as possible.”

But Kelly said she thinks it would be unlikely we would see as big a surge because there is now a larger number of people vaccinated.

“We’re certainly hoping to get more vaccinated, and more people understanding those mitigation measures to be prepared for this holiday season,” she said.

Those who are not yet vaccinated still have time to reach full vaccination status before the holidays, she said.

“If you have family members who are coming to visit over the holidays, encourage them to get vaccinated,” she said. “We’re not encouraging travel, we’re still saying if at all possible, consider having a small gathering for the holidays. Try to keep it to household members or people with whom you normally associate. If it is possible, if the weather blesses us with warmth on Thanksgiving, if it’s possible to have an outdoor gathering, that is certainly safer than indoors or an indoor gathering with windows and doors open, that that’s helpful.”

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