As coronavirus vaccines have become more widely available, officials are looking to expand COVID-19 vaccination coverage among adolescents.
Speaking at a White House COVID-19 response team virtual town hall, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, noted 3.3 million coronavirus infections and 314 deaths in those younger than 18. He also cited a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which indicated low hospitalization rates among adolescents, at just two per 100,000 at the peak. Of the 204 children under study, nearly one-third were sent to an ICU and 5% required mechanical ventilation, however, there were no deaths. Also, 70.6% of the total had at least one underlying medical issue.
“The bottom line is that COVID-19 in pediatric patients, although rare with regard to serious complications, definitely can be very serious and the good news is that COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be very safe and effective, including in younger people,” he said.
Federal data indicate 24.1% of youths aged 12-15 have received at least one dose, with the figure climbing to 38.9% in teens aged 16-17.
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Fauci asked Dr. Lee Beers, pediatrician and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, her opinion on the most compelling reasons for adolescents to get vaccinated.
Beers cited three “key issues” compelling her to recommend vaccination for adolescents, such as preventing illness and death, albeit rare. She also said vaccinations will help kids get back to school, sports and social networks, while also noting “a sense of community obligation and service.”
Beers said many pediatricians nationwide have expressed a consistent trend in patients presenting lingering symptoms following COVID-19 infection, also known as long COVID, underscoring the importance of vaccines in this younger age group.
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Later, Fauci noted a degree of vaccine hesitancy that officials are working to address, and asked some of the concerns cropping up among parents and adolescents when they visit pediatricians’ offices.
While some are on the fence, unsure about vaccination due to conflicting information they may have heard, others have more specific concerns about the speed with which the vaccine became available, and whether there’s enough experience with the vaccine in children, Beers said. Still, others recite misinformation, including a widespread rumor that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility.
“Unfortunately social media is powerful, and there’s a lot of misinformation on social media and our adolescents are on social media a whole lot,” she said. “And so they see the good stuff, but they also see the misinformation on there.”