Travel restrictions, kids’ shots and other things you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine

November 30, 2021
A kid smiling as a health care worker administers a shot
There is a zero percent chance anybody in this writer's family will handle getting a vaccination with as much class as this young lady. iStock

With a name more fitting of an antivirus software, Omicron is the latest and most perplexing variant of the coronavirus – and it doesn’t look like it’s going to go away any time soon. 

Sadly, because we as a society have been down this road plenty of times before, we already know the important questions to ask. Like, is it more contagious? More lethal? But most importantly, are we back at square one?

“I don’t think so,” said Danielle Scheurer, M.D., MUSC Health System chief quality officer, who oversees all things vaccine for the hospital system. “This variant should be taken seriously, for sure, but I think we’re going to continue to stay ahead of the game because, as with any variation of this virus, those of us who are vaccinated are always going to have some degree of immunity.”

Scheurer expects the current vaccine will still provide some level of protection against Omicron and likened the current situation to that of the flu vaccine. 

“Even though it’s a different strain, last year’s flu shot is still going to give you some protection against this season’s,” she said. “But remember, the realistic goal with getting vaccinated isn’t to prevent getting COVID. The realistic goal is to prevent getting seriously ill with COVID.”

With the virus and vaccine landscape still in a state of flux, we are periodically checking in with Scheurer to ask her the most pertinent questions that are hanging in the balance.

Q. How likely is it that Omicron ends up here and everywhere else? Is it naive to think it can be contained in Southern Africa?

A. I think it’s just a matter of time. It’s already known to be in a dozen other countries. And I just can’t imagine restricting travel is going to do anything. Stopping inbound flights from southern Africa isn’t really going to change the virus’s trajectory. I mean, Israel is shutting off all inbound flights, so maybe that works. But the odds are it ends up here, there, everywhere. 

Q. Let’s just say that we need a new vaccine to combat Omicron; how quickly could a new vaccine be ready?

A. That’s hard to say. But I do know that Pfizer and Moderna are looking at Omicron, and they are poised to produce another vaccine if they need to. They advertise that they could do that pretty quickly. The part that’s the real issue – as we’ve learned from the past – is production and distribution. 

Q. Speed round: Who is currently eligible for a booster? 

A. Anyone 18 years and older can get it; Pfizer is currently filing with the FDA to allow boosters for children aged 16-17. 

Q. Is it the booster the same amount of vaccine as the previous two? 

A. Pfizer is the same. Moderna is half the dose.

Q. Are people experiencing any noticeable side effects?

Not really. It’s been pretty similar to how people felt after getting the second dose. 

Q. Do kids also get two doses for initial vaccination? If so, how far apart?

A. Yes, they get two. And kids aged 5-11 are getting one-third of the adult dose, spread three to four weeks apart. Kids 12 and up get the adult dose. 

Q. Are kids experiencing any side effects, similar to what adults have?

A. They seem to be affected a little bit less. 

Q. Where can people get it?

A. There are still a ton of options, but the most popular still seem to be the Lockwood site, Summey Pavilion and Rutledge Tower. 

Q. Do people need to have a MyChart account to schedule an appointment? 

A. Nope. They can visit https://muschealth.org/vaccine-scheduling, and we have open scheduling. It’s sort of a one-click thing. And that’s for both adults and children. Or they can call 843-876-7227.

Q. What is the difference between the vaccine and the pill? 

They both are after the same thing: to reduce the severity of an infection. But the pill is reserved strictly for those who have already contracted the virus and are actively fighting it. They say it is supposed to cut hospitalizations and deaths in half, at least for those at high risk for severe infection. The expectation is that an FDA review is coming soon and everything will be clearer then. We have heard there will be a state-based distribution process, similar to the vaccine rollout. 

Q. How long do we think the vaccine will be good for?

A. It’s still so unknown. I think most people’s guess is that we will require interval doses. I think since most people are used to the concept of the annual flu vaccine, and a lot of people are throwing that out there with this virus as well. The one-year mark is just easy to remember, but it might not be the exact time frame. We might find that it’s every 18 months or two years. Just hard to know at this point.

**Have a question you'd like answered? Email it to donovanb@musc.edu with the subject line "Vaccine Q."

 

About the Author

Bryce Donovan

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