COVID vaccination rates among teens remain low in Clark, Champaign counties

Peggy Smith, a registered nurse, gives a COVID vaccine Thursday at the Clark County Combined Health District's new vaccine center on Leffel Lane. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Peggy Smith, a registered nurse, gives a COVID vaccine Thursday at the Clark County Combined Health District's new vaccine center on Leffel Lane. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Experts offer suggestions for what might give those numbers a boost.

A minority of eligible children in Ohio and the region are vaccinated against COVID-19as .

In Clark County, 11.3% of people aged 0-19 have completed the vaccine series, while in Champaign County, nearly 8% have completed the series. Statewide, 15.1% of that age bracket has been vaccinated. This makes adolescents the least vaccinated age group in Ohio.

About one in 100 kids who contract COVID-19 require hospitalization and one-third of those will require ICU care, according to data from a September joint report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association. About one in 10,000 children who get COVID-19 die.

And even more kids who get COVID-19 will experience long-haul symptoms for months (possibly years) like headache, fatigue and heart palpitations, even if their initial symptoms are mild. Researchers have struggled to pin down how many kids experience long-haul symptoms and for how long. Studies have found that between 10% and 50% of kids report COVID symptoms months after being infected.

Experts explain that while it’s unknown if the delta variant of the virus sweeping through the country is more deadly than previous strains, the delta variant is more than twice as transmissible as previous variants. And since more kids are getting sick, statistically more kids are going to be hospitalized, experience long-haul symptoms and die.

Since the beginning of the academic year, more than 426 school children in Clark and Champaign counties have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Ohio Department of Health’s latest figures, which lag significantly.

CountyResidents 0-19 with at least one dose% of residents 0-19 with at least one dose

Local public health leaders urge vaccination

Clark County Combined Health District health commissioner Charles Patterson told the News-Sun that multiple factors contribute to the low vaccination rates among youth in Clark County. To start, COVID-19 vaccines are only options for those aged 12 and older, as the vaccines have not received federal authorization for those younger than 12. Vaccine rates, as published by the Ohio Department of Health, are categorized by age bracket, with teenagers falling in the 0-19 bracket.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine emergency use authorization for those 12 and older in May. On Aug. 23, the FDA granted Pfizer’s vaccine full approval for 16 and older.

However, vaccine hesitancy is more complex than a mere matter of data organization.

Families with parents who decline vaccination will likely not take their teenagers to get vaccinated, for example, Patterson said. Overall, 44.25% of Clark Countians have completed their vaccine series.

The health commissioner told the News-Sun that some vaccinated parents have voiced concerns in regard to vaccinating their children, however. Some have pointed to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) being reported in some vaccine recipients, particularly young men. This has occurred in roughly 4 in 1 million vaccine recipients.

Patterson said that people who developed this treatable condition following a vaccination recovered without long-term issues. In addition, some parents of daughters have voiced concern over the possibility of the vaccine’s effects on future fertility. Patterson pointed out that studies of the vaccine do not illustrate a correlation between COVID-19 vaccines and issues with fertility.

Patterson listed several reasons as to why parents should consider vaccinating their eligible children against COVID-19: to start, fully-vaccinated students will not need to quarantine if they come into contact with a COVID-19 positive individuals as long as they wear a mask indoors for 14 days or return a negative test back three to five days after their exposure.

In addition, parents may want to consider vaccinating their children because hospitalizations among kids are increasing as the highly delta variant spreads across the nation.

“More children are being affected by the delta variant than before,” Patterson said.

ExploreCHAMPAIGN COUNTY: COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccinations

Champaign County Health District health commissioner Gabe Jones told the News-Sun that he and his staff have heard a few concerns from parents in regards to vaccinating their eligible children, saying they worry about the time in which the vaccines hit the market.

Jones said the COVID-19 vaccines -- as well as any other vaccine -- goes through a “rigorous” vetting process before they can be administered, even under emergency-authorization. In addition, all age groups studied show that the vaccines are “very safe and effective,” Jones said.

Jones said that so far this school year, more cases among students have been reported than compared to all of last academic year, and more kids are showing sickness.

Although deaths among COVID-infected people in the 0-19 age bracket aren’t frequent, children and teens can still carry the virus and infect people who are more at-risk, Jones said: they’re parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

“The number one tool we have is vaccines,” Jones said.

What might increase uptake

Local health experts speculate that the following might increase coronavirus vaccination rates in kids somewhat: FDA’s full approval of Pfizer for 16 and up this week, Ohio’s Medicaid plans beginning this week to offer $100 to child patients who get vaccinated, primary care doctors offering the vaccine in their office, schools holding clinics and a desire to avoid a child missing school to quarantine.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey from June, about 30% of unvaccinated Americans said they would be more likely to get the shot if the FDA fully approved one.

Ohio’s Medicaid Managed Care plans announced in August the expansion of a $100 gift card incentive for getting the coronavirus vaccine to include every Medicaid patient 12 and older. The program previously was only offered to adult Medicaid patients.

Donna Gabbard, director of women and children’s health at CareSource, said they already have seen an increase in people coming to vaccination clinics to claim their gift cards. Nearly half of Ohio’s children are covered by Medicaid.

ExploreReport: Former Wittenberg athlete, 24, dies of COVID-19

The Kaiser Family Foundation found in February that Americans would feel most comfortable getting the shot at their doctor’s office, and in June found that people trust their personal doctors much more for information on vaccines than other sources such as state government officials.

Dayton Children’s Pediatrics is offering the shot at its office. Dr. Jennifer Hilgeman, a pediatrician there, said it has absolutely helped increase vaccinations.

“When you have a captive audience and you can have that live one-on-one discussion with them when you’re talking about risks, benefits, going over any concerns that the parents have for the vaccine, and you’re able to offer it there on the spot and monitor them afterwards in their doctor’s office, I think the parents just feel overall more a sense of comfort in receiving it there,” she said.

The coronavirus shot is now widely available across Ohio in pharmacies and clinics run by hospitals and health departments. But the vaccine is still not offered in most doctor’s offices for logistical reasons, including that the vaccine needs to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures and it comes in multi-dose vials.

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