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Pfizer COVID-19 shot expanded to US children as young as 12

U.S. regulators on Monday expanded the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12, offering a way to protect the nation’s adolescents before they head back to school in the fall and paving the way for them to return to more normal activities.

Shots could begin as soon as Thursday, after a federal vaccine advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. An announcement is expected Wednesday.

Nacogdoches Fire and Rescue has applied to receive and distribute Pfizer’s vaccine after installing an ultra-cold freezer capable of storing the vaccine at a temperature of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

It was unclear Tuesday when doses of the Pfizer vaccine might arrive. The majority of vaccines given in Nacogdoches County have been made by Moderna, though the single-shot Johnson & Jonson vaccine is also in use again after a brief pause by federal health officials.

Nacogdoches County had 60 active cases of the coronavirus as of Monday, the latest data available from Texas Department of State Health Services.

Around 31% of Nacogdoches County residents 16 and older are fully vaccinated.

Most COVID-19 vaccines worldwide have been authorized for adults. Pfizer’s vaccine is being used in multiple countries for teens as young as 16, and Canada recently became the first to expand use to 12 and up. Parents, school administrators and public health officials elsewhere have eagerly awaited approval for the shot to be made available to more kids.

“This is a watershed moment in our ability to fight back the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president who’s also a pediatrician, told The Associated Press.

The Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce plans to provide more information on the vaccine to parents during an upcoming breakfast event.

“What we would like to do is hear from somebody in the health care community. That’s going to be the program for Eggs and Issues on May 27 — all things vaccination for youngsters,” chamber CEO C. Wayne Mitchell said Tuesday.

The Food and Drug Administration declared that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15. The agency noted there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 16 among kids given dummy shots. More intriguing, researchers found the kids developed higher levels of virus-fighting antibodies than earlier studies measured in young adults.

The younger teens received the same vaccine dosage as adults and had the same side effects, mostly sore arms and flu-like fever, chills or aches that signal a revved-up immune system, especially after the second dose.

Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech recently requested similar authorization in the European Union, with other countries to follow.

The latest news is welcome for U.S. families struggling to decide what activities are safe to resume when the youngest family members remain unvaccinated.

“I can’t feel totally comfortable because my boys aren’t vaccinated,” said Carrie Vittitoe, a substitute teacher and freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky, who is fully vaccinated, as are her husband and 17-year-old daughter.

The FDA decision means her 13-year-old son soon could be eligible, leaving only her 11-year-old son unvaccinated. The family has not yet resumed going to church, and summer vacation will be a road trip so they do not have to get on a plane.

“We can’t really go back to normal because two-fifths of our family don’t have protection,” Vittitoe said.

President Joe Biden said Monday’s decision marked another important step in the nation’s march back to regular life.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and today it got a little brighter,” Biden said in a statement.

Pfizer is not the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects. Another U.S. company, Novavax, has a COVID-19 vaccine in late-stage development and just began a study in 12- to 17-year-olds.

Next up is testing whether the vaccine works for even younger children. Both Pfizer and Moderna have begun U.S. studies in children ages 6 months to 11 years. Those studies explore whether babies, preschoolers and elementary-age kids will need different doses than teens and adults. Gruber said Pfizer expects its first results in the fall.

Outside of the U.S., AstraZeneca is studying its vaccine among 6- to 17-year-olds in Britain. And in China, Sinovac recently announced that it has submitted preliminary data to Chinese regulators showing its vaccine is safe in children as young as 3.

Children are far less likely than adults to get seriously ill from COVID-19, yet they represent nearly 14% of the nation’s coronavirus cases. At least 296 have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone, and more than 15,000 have been hospitalized, according to a tally by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

That’s not counting the toll of family members becoming ill or dying — or the disruption to school, sports and other activities so crucial to children’s overall well-being.

The AAP welcomed the FDA’s decision.

“Our youngest generations have shouldered heavy burdens over the past year, and the vaccine is a hopeful sign that they will be able to begin to experience all the activities that are so important for their health and development,” said AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers in a statement.

Experts say children must get the shots if the country is to vaccinate the 70% to 85% of the population necessary to reach what’s called herd immunity.

In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated people — including children — should continue taking precautions such as wearing masks indoors and keeping their distance from other unvaccinated people outside of their households.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Roads flooded as more rain on the way

The wild weather of 2021 continued early this week as flooding and downed trees closed nearly two dozen roads in the aftermath of severe thunderstorms that dropped more than 2 inches of rain across the region.

More than 20 roads across the county were closed because of high water or fallen trees Monday, and eight remained closed Tuesday morning, according to the Nacogdoches County Emergency Management Office. The roads still closed Tuesday were along swollen creek and river beds like CR 756 that crosses Loco Bayou southwest of Alazan, and CR 526 that passes over Lanana Creek south of Nacogdoches. Several roads in the Woden and Chireno area also remained closed due to high water all along the Attoyac Bayou watershed.

Nacogdoches and Woden ISDs canceled classes Monday due to flooded roads throughout their districts, and Chireno ISD opted for a late start.

More than 2 inches of rain fell across the region Sunday afternoon into Monday morning, and another 0.85 inches fell Monday night, according to the National Weather Service.

Widespread power outages accompanied the early week rain and lightning with more than 1,000 customers without power Monday morning. Those numbers dipped significantly by Tuesday but customers in Melrose were still reporting power outages.

More rain was expected Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, which could lead to more widespread flooding. Strong thunderstorms were in the weather service forecast for Wednesday.

The Nacogdoches Wastewater Treatment Plant off Rayburn Road was overwhelmed by rainwater, city officials said, and more than 100,000 gallons of water flowed into Lanana Creek, which led to flooding along CR 526.

“The environmental threat is minimal as the overflow was 95% rainwater,” city spokeswoman Bethanie Griffin said in an email.

Lake Nacogdoches, near the city’s surface water treatment plant, was listed as 100% full Tuesday about 3 feet beyond flood stage. That’s down about a foot from the week before following another round of heavy spring rains. Sam Rayburn Reservoir was about 4 feet above normal capacity Tuesday.

The Attoyac Bayou was more than 4 feet above flood stage Tuesday and expected to remain swollen throughout the week as more rain saturates the region.

The flooding comes less than three months after unprecedented winter storms blanketed East Texas with ice and snow and left customers without power and water for days. The storms killed at least 57 people, including three in Nacogdoches County who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in a generator accident.

Man wanted in stabbing of wife over church attendance; another sought in burglaries

The Nacogdoches County’s Sheriff’s Office is seeking a man accused of stabbing his wife with a screwdriver on Mother’s Day because she wanted to go to church, Sheriff Jason Bridges said Monday afternoon.

Rodolfo Madera Gonzalez, 43, is wanted for aggravated family violence assault with a weapon, a first-degree felony.

Gonzalez got into an argument with his wife on Mother’s Day because she wanted to go to church and then stabbed her multiple times with a screwdriver, Bridges said in a press release.

“The assault occurred in the 300 block of CR 6108, where the suspect fled the scene after the stabbing. The victim was transported to a local hospital, where she is in stable condition,” Bridges said.

Gonzalez is believed to be driving a 2007 Gray Dodge Ram half ton pickup bearing Texas license plate number BS9-9021.

“The suspect is believed to be on the run, and has possibly left the area. The suspect is also wanted for a violation of a protective order, a third-degree felony,” Bridges said.

Burglary suspect wanted in 2 counties

In a separate case, a 32-year-old Timpson man is wanted for theft and burglary charges in both Nacogdoches and Shelby counties.

Seth Alexander “was involved in several thefts in the northern part of Nacogdoches County during the months of December 2020 through March 2021. The suspect is on the run and is known to hang out in the Timpson area,” Bridges said.

Anyone with any information on these fugitives are asked to contact the Nacogdoches County Sheriff’s Office at 936-560-7777 or Crime Stoppers at 936-560-4636.

Crime Stoppers will pay a cash reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of a felon suspect. Callers remain anonymous and do not have to testify in court.

Canizares describes memorable start, future goals

In his ninth month in Nacogdoches, City Manager Mario Canizares readily points out advantages of small-town living.

“You drive around and see the natural attributes this community has, and one of the things COVID taught us is you can live anywhere on the planet and still work,” Canizares told Nacogdoches County Republican Women’s Club during a luncheon address Monday. “At some point, people get tired of the gridlock, and they’re going to find this hidden gem in Nacogdoches.”

But pine trees and lakes aside, the perils of running a city running are pretty universal.

“At the end of the day as a city manager there are just a few things I worry about,” Canizares said. “What worries me all the time is that at 2 or 3 in the morning a police officer may have to make a decision that he or she had no intention of every having to make. The reality is we could be the next headline. I’m not afraid of that; I don’t want that, but it’s possible.”

Another worrisome task, particularly for a city with a smaller tax base and aging infrastructure, is paying the bills. Resources are finite, he said, but expenses are often vital.

“At one point we were 20% down in our police officer ranks,” Canizares said, describing a months-long hiring freeze put in place during the height of the pandemic. “We had 65 sworn. We had 13 vacancies the police department. That’s not good. We have to find ways to pay the bills.”

The city has since began filling positions and hiring new officers. Moving forward, goals set by city council include revitalizing downtown, job growth with livable wages and addressing infrastructure needs.

Expensive to maintain and even more costly to replace, sewer mains, water pipes and drainage go largely unnoticed by the public until they malfunction or burst. For that reason, Canizares makes a point of emphasizing infrastructure in outreach events such as Monday’s address.

“We’ve have facilities that are very old,” he said. “We’ve got unseen infrastructure that’s very old, and we have to make sure that is resolved, and it’s not going to be easy.”

Selected last summer to succeed retiring longtime City Manager Jim Jeffers, Canizares’ first nine months here could be described as a trial by fire. An SFA alumnus originally from Fort Worth, he joined the city staff in August, arguably the most uncomfortable month in Texas made worse by COVID-19.

“It’s hot, everything is closed down and everybody’s in a panic,” he recalled.

A few weeks later, Hurricane Laura took aim for the piney woods, later changing her path and rolling ashore in Louisiana.

“It was a good opportunity for me to see how staff operated and see firsthand how things work,” he said.

Several inches of snow and ice blanketed the area a few months later, followed by a record-breaking snowstorm in February.

“Did we learn from it? We absolutely did,” he said of the unprecedented weather that took even the city’s water supply temporarily offline. “We’ve got to continue to work hard to make sure we are ready for the next one and I can assure you we are. Doesn’t mean we won’t have mistakes and things won’t go out, but we will be more ready than we were last time.”