Suspicion, misinformation, complacency and delays due to holidays and bad weather have combined to produce alarming COVID-19 vaccination rates among American children aged 5 to 11, authorities say.
As of Tuesday, just over 17% were fully immunized, more than two months after vaccines for the age group became available. While Vermont is 48%, California is just under 19% and Mississippi is only 5%.
Vaccinations among all elementary schools increased after the introduction of the shooting in the fall, but the numbers have slowly risen since then, and the explosive spread of omicron appears to have had little effect.
The low rates are “very worrying,” said Dr Robert Murphy, executive director of the Institute for Global Health at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “It’s just amazing.”
Parents who are hesitant “are taking a huge risk and continue to fuel the pandemic,” Murphy said.
Hospitalizations of children under 18 with COVID-19 in the United States have reached their highest levels on record in recent weeks.
The low immunization rates and increasing hospitalizations are “a blow, especially when we have worked so hard to keep these children healthy,” said Dr. Natasha Burgert, pediatrician in Overland Park, Kansas.
Vaccines have been shown to be very safe and effective in reducing the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death.
Overall, 63% of Americans are fully immunized. In children 12 to 17 years old, the rate is 54%.
COVID-19 injections for young children have been approved in at least 12 countries. In Canada, where Pfizer vaccines were licensed for 5 to 11 year olds in November, only 2% are fully immunized.
Snowstorms, tornadoes and other inclement weather in December are believed to have slowed the pace of vaccination in the United States, as well as the busy holiday season. Yet many parents have other concerns.
Chicago mother Kendra Shaw has withstood the shots for her two school-aged children, saying she worried about the possible risks and was not convinced the benefits are worth it.
But this week, her 10-year-old daughter begged to get the shot so she wouldn’t miss school, and her 7-year-old soon-to-be asked for his shots so he could throw a big birthday party.
Shaw scheduled his first doses for Wednesday but said, “I’m really on the fence.”
Daniel Kotzin, of Denver, said he was confident he made the right decision not to vaccinate his 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son because most cases of omicron appear to be mild.
“They are at virtually no risk of harm, so I really don’t understand the reason for vaccinating them,” he said.
Doctors say this kind of thinking is wrong and part of the problem.
“It’s true, children in general do better than adults with COVID,” said Dr. Elizabeth Murray, pediatric emergency physician in Rochester, New York, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, “but “not too sick” still can mean miserable with fever and muscle pain for a week. It can also mean MIS-C or long COVID. ”
MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome, is a rare but serious disease linked to COVID-19 that can affect many organs and usually requires hospitalization.
Authorities don’t believe omicron makes children and adults more seriously ill than other variants, and say hospitalization rates are on the rise in part because it’s much more contagious.
Some children have been admitted with underlying conditions such as lung disease, diabetes and sickle cell disease that got worse because of an omicron infection, doctors say.
Dr Jesse Hackell, a pediatrician in Pomona, New York, said at least 25% of his patients aged 5 to 11 are vaccinated, but after an initial rush in the fall, the numbers have declined.
“It’s a tough sale,” he said. “We’re not ready,” is a common comment, Hackell said. “When I ask, ‘What are you waiting for? I get a sort of shrug. I had a few to say, “We’re not going to be the first million. We will wait and see what happens.
A frustrated Hackell said the government’s vaccination campaign clearly fights disinformation and “pseudoscience” like he had never seen before in more than 40 years as a pediatrician.
He said the government had to be tough and order the shooting.
“If we could get all children immunized at all levels, it would go a long way. It wouldn’t end the pandemic, but it would end serious illness, ”Hackell said. “It could help turn the virus into nothing more serious than a common cold, and we can deal with it.”
Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.
AP writers Rebecca Santana in New Orleans and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.
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