We need to vaccinate more young people and kids, doctor urges

Only about 20% of children between the ages of 5-11 in the US are fully vaccinated despite COVID-19 vaccines being approved for this age group three months ago.

For kids between the ages of 12-17, roughly half are vaccinated while just 20% are boosted. In other words, there are still millions of children vulnerable to COVID-19.

“I think more of us need to be really frank with the American people … that [vaccines] are safe, they are effective, that COVID is massively affecting kids, especially during this Omicron surge,” Dr. Anand Swaminathan, a New Jersey-based emergency medicine physician, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “And these [cases] are preventable. These are preventable hospitalizations. They are preventable deaths in children.”

‘Their lives are being affected by their long-term symptoms’

COVID cases among children have risen steadily over the last several months, largely due to the virulence of the Omicron variant.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), there have been nearly 4.2 million cases reported since the beginning of January and nearly 632,000 cases for the week ending Feb. 3. That more than doubles the Delta variant peak in 2021.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics and really every pediatrician that I’ve had the good fortune to meet has been very strong on the side of vaccinating children,” Fairbrother said. “It is true that COVID is not a huge risk to children. There are very few children who got super sick with COVID, and an even smaller percentage of them who died of COVID.”

Since COVID first hit the US, over 12 million children have tested positive for the virus, according to the AAP. Less than 1% of the COVID cases among children have resulted in death.

Children wearing protective masks toss snow at each other as they skate at Bryant Park in New York City, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

“It’s not a huge number but still, seven died in January from COVID,” Swaminathan said. “Those are preventable deaths. We don’t need to have any kids dying of this. Vaccines can help to protect the group where they’re approved.”

At the same time, children infected with the coronavirus are at risk for developing multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which the CDC defines as “a condition where different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.” There have been more than 6,800 cases of MIS-C in the US and 59 deaths tied to the issue.

“Their lives are being affected by their long-term symptoms,” Dr. Hilary Fairbrother, a Houston-based emergency medicine physician, said recently on Yahoo Finance Live. “And that’s 10-15% of children who get COVID. All of these things are mitigated by the vaccine. MIS-C is essentially gone. 95% reduction of MIS-C. The long-term COVID symptoms, essentially gone, and essentially zero ability to have COVID kill a child who is vaccinated.”

‘These are the safest vaccines we have ever seen’

Pfizer (PFE) recently announced that it would be seeking FDA approval and emergency use authorization for its COVID vaccine for children six months and older, which Fairbrother described as “very exciting.”

Fairbrother emphasized the safety and efficacy of the vaccines and encouraged parents who may be unsure about vaccinating their children to speak with their pediatrician.

“I know that parents are very caring and very loving about their children,” Fairbrother said. “And they want to make sure something is safe before they give their children a new product. I want to come out and be very clear that in our modern medical history, these are the safest vaccines we have ever seen or really, frankly, even imagined.”

Brayden Burton, 3, sits with his father, Grant Burton, while he is treated for COVID at the Children's Hospital of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Brayden Burton, 3, sits with his father, Grant Burton, while he is treated for COVID at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Though Pfizer’s recent news is a promising development in the fight against COVID, Swaminathan cautioned against only focusing on “the new shiny toy” when there are already things in place that have proven to be effective, like vaccinations for the population at large.

Currently, 64.1% of the overall US population is fully vaccinated while 75.7% have received at least one dose and 42.3% have been boosted, according to the latest CDC data.

Vaccinating more young people and the spread of different COVID strains may be key to developing immunity in the overall population, according to Dr. Asha Shah, director of infectious disease at Stamford Health.

“That will help contribute to the shift from pandemic to endemic and not thinking about COVID first thing when you’re making social plans or making travel plans, that this becomes like many of the other coronaviruses that circulate in the community,” Shah recently said on Yahoo Finance Live. “That will likely take some time, but this may be a shift in that direction.”

Shah described vaccines as “our most important tool” that can help the population adjust to new variants that could potentially emerge.

“I think the fact that technology exists and that these companies are working on new formulations is a smart way to move forward,” she said. “And I do think we’re going to get to a point where perhaps we get a COVID booster at a regular interval that perhaps contains the most predominant variants from the last COVID season, similar to what we do for influenza.”

Shaw stressed that a larger part of the population needs to be up-to-date on their COVID vaccines, whether they need first or second doses or are in need of a booster.

“There’s still a lot of people that have not received a single dose of a COVID vaccine, and that’s a problem,” she said. “And that’s what we saw was overwhelming the hospitals through this last surge. We have to get everyone vaccinated with this very effective tool. That’s the way we move forward.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at [email protected]

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