Sep 19, 2022 - Health

Experts alarmed by COVID vaccination rates among America's youngest kids

Illustration of a CDC Covid vaccine card with a big question mark drawn on in crayon.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Less than 325,000 of America's youngest children are fully vaccinated as hesitancy continues to dog the pandemic response.

Why it matters: Health officials are sounding the alarm over the potential of low child vaccination rates fueling transmission and carrying the risk of severe illness for some of the youngest Americans.

  • "What's at stake really with this is that we're going to be setting up a bunch of kids for risk of severe disease in the future," Daniel Blatt, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the University of Louisville and Norton Children's Hospital, told Axios.
  • "We don't really know what the next variant is gonna be. And the way to get ahead of that next variant is to give children a blueprint on how to fight it and that's what the vaccine does."

Zoom in: In D.C., which has the highest percentage of young children vaccinated, less than one quarter of children 6 months to four years old have received one dose— and 7.5% have received both doses, per the Washington Post.

  • The states with some of the lowest child vaccination rates — Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi — have vaccination rates of less than 0.2%, the Post found.

The big picture: The Food and Drug Administration in June authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children between 6 months and 5 years — about a year and a half after the first vaccines were made available for vulnerable adults.

  • Children under 5 have had the highest rates of hospitalization from COVID among youth, per the CDC.

State of play: Vaccine hesitancy is typically amplified among parents making decisions about their children's health, Blatt said.

  • "If a child is going to do something or we're going to do something to a child, a parent will always be more nervous if that child is younger, and we're seeing that with the COVID vaccine."
  • Vaccine misinformation and insufficient communication about vaccinations are both contributing to the low rates, Peter Hotez, an infectious-disease physician and pediatrician at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the Post.
  • "We haven’t done a good job explaining the long-term developmental consequences of long covid for younger children," Hotez said.

The bottom line: "We do lots of things for safety for children ... they wear bicycle helmets, they eat nutritious food, they get regular checkups," Blatt said.

  • "These are things that are part of a routine medical care, and COVID vaccines, just like other routine vaccinations, is just part of the whole picture to keep a child safe."

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