Now is the time for students 12 and older to get vaccinated against COVID-19 so they can be fully immunized before school starts, a pair of Utah pediatricians said Friday, urging parents who have doubts about the virus. injections to talk to their GP to clear up any misinformation.
“Most parents are hesitant, though, it’s more of an emotional decision, not a logical decision. That’s why I think it’s also really good to talk to someone you know personally,” said Dr. Tim Duffy, associate medical director of Intermountain Healthcare’s Pediatric Service Line, during a virtual press conference.
Duffy said parents hear a lot about the coronavirus and children, but “they aren’t sure what’s true and what isn’t. That their healthcare provider interprets that for them, in the context of what’s happening in their own family, is huge.”
Providers agree that while there is some risk to vaccinating adolescents and teens, “it’s very, very low and it’s definitely less than exposure” to COVID-19 for that age group, Duffy said. Vaccines are currently only available for those 12 and older, although federal approval for younger children to get the shots could come this winter.
dr. Andy Pavia, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of Utah Health and director of hospital epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, said myocarditis, the inflammation of the heart muscle, is a rare side effect associated with the vaccine, more common in men under the age of 30.
“But it is extremely rare. For each case of myocarditis that can occur with vaccination, it is estimated to prevent about 14,200 cases, about 400 hospitalizations and three deaths,” Pavia said. “We’ve seen a few cases of myocarditis that were not serious. People recover well.”
He dismissed what he called a “myth” that vaccinations can affect fertility as “100% total nonsense,” but said it is actively being circulated on social media and may have come from “an active anti-vaccination group or even a Russian disinformation campaign.” ”
Other false claims doing the rounds, Pavia said, are that vaccines are less effective or unsafe in young people and that they don’t get as sick if they contract COVID-19.
“What drives me the most crazy is that COVID is not a problem for teenagers,” he said. There have been about a thousand hospitalizations in that age group, “and a few deaths,” from COVID-19, as well as long-term effects of the virus in some cases.
The Utah Department of Health reports that there have been fewer than five deaths from the virus among both Utahns under one year old and those aged 1 to 14, and eight deaths from COVID-19 among those aged 15 to 24 years old.
Just over 30% of Utahns ages 12-15 have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 22.5% are considered fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been two weeks or more since their last dose, according to the state health department. The numbers are going up for Utahns 12-18, with 38.5% on at least one dose and nearly 31% fully vaccinated.
Pavia said Utah is ahead of most other states when it comes to vaccinating children and teens.
“It’s really good. It’s one of the few places where we’re ahead of most states in COVID stats. It shows the enthusiasm most parents have had to protect their children,” said Pavia. “But 38% is not nearly enough. We still have a long way to go.”
At a special session in May, the Utah legislature banned the wearing of masks in classrooms next school year, but Pavia said it shouldn’t stop parents, teachers and students from working together “to do the right thing.” especially for children who are too young to be vaccinated.
For Utahns under 12, learning at home may be the safest option, he said.
“If you really absolutely want to protect your child from being infected, especially if your child is at very high risk because of their heart or lung disease or cancer,” Pavia said, distance learning or homeschooling “is probably the safe option.”
He said he is “very concerned” about the potential impact of the new school year on the state’s already rising number of cases. Utah’s COVID-19 outbreak was recently ranked sixth in the nation, driven by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the virus first discovered in India and the state’s lagging vaccination rate.
Last fall, the new school year “swept a big wave through the community. Logic would say this is what we are dealing with and that is what we are concerned about. We’ll just have to see,” said Pavia, calling it “a big lift” to boost vaccination rates by fall.
Duffy also said he would like children to wear face masks at school this fall, expressing concern about how much time in class many have already missed because of the virus.
“I really need people to get vaccinated, honestly, because I don’t want to keep the kids out of school any longer. I think missing two years of personal schooling and the social aspect will have consequences. I would beg people to vaccinate so we can send children to school safely.”