Case Study: With Only 18% of Young Children in Nebraska Vaccinated, Experts Warn Schools Are Providing ‘Kindling’ for Wider COVID Outbreaks
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According to two Nebraska health experts, schools play a significant role in fueling the spread of viral outbreaks, with schoolchildren currently getting infected at higher rates. This makes it crucial to increase the number of children receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. Presently, only 18.5% of children aged 5 to 11 in Nebraska have been vaccinated, while 51.1% of youths aged 12 to 19 have received shots, totaling approximately 114,500 individuals.
Dr. Gwenn Skar, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital in Omaha, pointed out that these percentages have not demonstrated significant growth in recent weeks. Dr. Skar expressed appreciation for the number of vaccinated children but emphasized that there is still a substantial amount of work to be done.
Dr. Skar added that at the start of the pandemic, only 2.6% of all cases involved children. This figure has now risen to 25.5% of all cases. Dr. James Lawler, director of the Global Center for Health Security at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, joined Dr. Skar in a Zoom call with school officials to provide an update on COVID-19.
The call, organized by the Nebraska State Education Association and sponsored by the Nebraska Council of School Administrators, took place amidst a spike in hospitalizations due to coronavirus. As of Thursday, the State Department of Health and Human Services reported 754 Nebraskans hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest number since November 2020.
Dr. Lawler explained that schools act as a catalyst for community outbreaks of COVID and flu due to students’ prolonged exposure to respiratory infections in crowded buses and classrooms. He also debunked the myth that few children get infected with COVID, highlighting that children are tested at a significantly lower rate than adults. Consequently, the true number of infections among children does not accurately reflect in reported statistics. Furthermore, blood tests conducted for other reasons have demonstrated a faster rise in infections among children compared to other age groups.
According to Dr. Lawler, as of August 2020, 10% of children aged 17 or younger showed evidence of infection through blood tests. By November 2021, this figure had increased to 45%. In comparison, 35% of adults aged 18-49 showed evidence of infection, while less than 20% of those aged 65 and over did. Dr. Lawler concluded that children between the ages of zero and 17 are currently getting infected at a higher rate than any other age group.
Contrary to some observers, Dr. Lawler does not believe that the current wave of infections caused by the Omicron variant indicates the end of the pandemic. He argued that there is no evidence to suggest that the virus has exhausted all its opportunities to generate new variants. Additionally, communities with low vaccination rates provide an opportunity for the virus to mutate and lead to a new wave of infections. Dr. Lawler asserted that until the population achieves a vaccination rate of 80% or higher, the emergence of new variants remains a distinct possibility.
Other key points from the Zoom presentation include:
– Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) is a dangerous side effect that can manifest two to six weeks after a child is infected. Approximately 1 in every 3,200 infections results in this syndrome, causing internal organ damage such as the liver and kidneys. Children’s Hospital has treated roughly 100 children for this syndrome since the onset of the pandemic.
– Heart problems like pericarditis are very rare among children, affecting approximately 54 cases per million, primarily among 16- and 17-year-old males.
– A study conducted in Georgia revealed that schools without mask requirements were 3.5 times more likely to experience COVID outbreaks.
– Vaccination is effective for children, significantly reducing the likelihood of hospitalization for COVID-19. Dr. Skar stated that vaccinated children have a 93% lower risk of hospitalization.
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