St. Louis Pediatric Infectious Diseases Expert Gets Real About COVID-19 Booster Shots for Kids

    By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science and Technology

    Just as St. Louis area hospitals experience a record number of COVID patients, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots became available for kids ages 12 through 15, and for high-risk children ages 5 through 11.

    It was during the acceleration of cases from the Omicron surge, the CDC backed the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer booster shots for the two groups of children.

    “I believe strongly in the boosters,” said Jason Newland, MD, MEd, pediatric infectious diseases physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “I think we should be boosting because you have a better layer of protection, for not only them but for the people that love them and the people they love.”

    As a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Saint Louis Children’s hospital, Dr. Newland is helping to treat children who are hospitalized with COVID-19.

    “I will help other clinicians take care of patients that have infectious diseases,” he explained. “And so right now with COVID-19, we do a lot of help with some of the treatments and potential therapies that may or may not be needed with those children admitted to the hospital.”

    Newland is also principal investigator of a COVID-19 research study taking place in some St. Louis area middle schools and high schools. The study involves community COVID-19 testing and weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing with study participants. Tests include those who are vaccinated and those who are not.

    Having perspective from the study and now experiencing the worst of COVID so far at St. Louis Children’s Hospital from the surge of the Omicron variant, Newland is more passionate than ever about vaccinations for approved groups of children and for adults.

    “The scary part of this situation in our hospitals, whether it’s a pediatric hospital or it’s in a adult hospital, is the number of patients coming in and needing hospitalizations is challenging our ability to provide care to everybody that needs care right now.”

    Newland said the research shows that a booster shot is effective against Omicron.

    “We know when you get boosted with one of the mRNA vaccines, your vaccine effectiveness in preventing symptomatic illness goes up to 75% from 30%,” Newland said. “Yes, some people are gonna get it, and they usually are, you know, common colds. But you know, a lot of people are not going to get it.”

    Newland admitted that he knows not everyone will accept what he says, as people have different opinions about vaccines, boosters and masks.

    “Over 800 children died of COVID-19 during the pandemic. We don’t see that in the vaccinated. So I don’t care what the percentages are, any child death is wrong, especially when it’s preventable,” he said. “Boosters provide an additional layer of protection to a family. It provides an additional layer of protection for potentially high-risk children. And kids live with their grandparents, they live around multigenerational folks, they live with people that have had transplants. And they (children) can transmit it and that can kill them.”

    Newland said he’s speaking from a medical and scientific perspective, which he said has nothing to do with politics.

    “What’s happened is, people like me who sits in the hospital and says you need to do this and this, they say, ‘Well, you’re just talking political’. It’s what it’s become,” Newland explained. “That’s been used as an excuse of why not to listen to it. Because I’m speaking from a ‘political bent’ instead of from walking around a children’s hospital all last week watching the hospitalizations rise, watching the projects we have, the number being positive rise, hearing about a loved one who recently died of COVID. This is the reality. You can call that political or not. But the other reality of it is – we know what’s worked. We know that the mask literature shows you’re less likely to get COVID-19 if you wear a mask and we definitely know that if you get immunized you’re gonna be less likely to have serious disease.”

    “Yes, you’ve been immunized and you’ve been boosted. Have some people gotten COVID-19? Yeah, they have, they’ve had a cold. And they’ve stayed out of the hospital and thankfully that’s the case,” he said. “I’m not spewing politics. I’m spewing what the data shows and what we know from walking in the hospital every day.”