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Friday, January 14, 2022

Child Vaccine Rates Remain Low in Missouri as COVID Spikes

Posted By on Fri, Jan 14, 2022 at 3:10 PM

click to enlarge Signs on the door of a Barnes-Jewish Hospital clinic show various pandemic-related restrictions. The region's hospitals are seeing unprecedented numbers of pediatric COVID cases. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • Signs on the door of a Barnes-Jewish Hospital clinic show various pandemic-related restrictions. The region's hospitals are seeing unprecedented numbers of pediatric COVID cases.

Fewer than one in five vaccine-eligible children in St. Louis have gotten their full inoculation, but that rate still ranks near the top statewide, as new data show Missouri continues to struggle in protecting children from COVID-19.

Missouri is among many states where vaccination rates for young children between the ages of five and eleven have stalled. January 12 data from the CDC show just 13.1 percent of children in Missouri are fully vaccinated — though that's only moderately worse than the nationwide average of 18 percent.

As reported by Kaiser Health News this week, the local vaccine rates for children aged five to eleven show St. Louis County leading all municipalities in Missouri, with 24.5 percent fully vaccinated; it's also notable that the county boasts nearly 85,000 children within the eligible age group, by far the largest among Missouri regions and more than twice the number of the roughly 36,000 vaccine-eligible children in St. Charles.

Both St. Charles and the City of St. Louis show similar vaccine rates, at around 19 percent. St. Louis counts around 21,700 eligible children within its borders. In Jackson County, which includes Kansas City, about 15 percent of the county's 65,000 children are fully vaccinated.

There are multiple reasons for the slow speed of vaccine adoption for young children, and in its report, Kaiser Health News highlights the role of pervasive misinformation: Some parents, such as a Missouri mom who spoke to the news service about her initial hesitancy to vaccinate her child, latch onto claims that purport to show children are at greater risk for COVID-19 vaccine injury — specifically, for a heart-related side effect called myocarditis — than the danger from the disease itself.

But as noted not-a-doctor and podcast host Joe Rogan recently discovered, scientific research on children with COVID shows exactly the opposite: Yes, there is a greater risk for myocarditis — but that risk is found in unvaccinated children who contract COVID-19.

And while children do have a lower risk for serious COVID-related illness, recent studies, including those involving researchers at Washington University and Harvard, found that children can still get seriously sick — and that they can spread the virus even while asymptomatic.

In St. Louis, pediatric COVID-19 cases have risen as the omicron variant continues its spread. The result is hospitalization numbers that rival even the worst stretches of the pandemic: Last week, the city set a new record for children hospitalized with COVID-19 at 64. On Friday, the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 46 hospitalizations for those eighteen and younger — of those hospitalized, 28 are younger than twelve, and six of those are listed as in the ICU.

The combination of a rapidly spreading variant and a lag in vaccinations for children arrives at a difficult time for policymakers and medical experts trying to reduce the strangling of critical hospital resources. Measures that could help keep more people out of hospital beds — such as vaccine and mask mandates — have instead become the targets of Missouri's attorney general in his mission to use an adverse court ruling to undo local health orders.

On top of all of that, mobilizing COVID-19 testing facilities and shipping at-home tests has proven a challenge at multiple levels. St. Louis and other regions are also contending with an unreliable COVID-19 testing partner that is now facing inquiries over allegations of fraud.

Dr. Alex Garza, who co-leads the pandemic task force, noted in a January 11 update that the absence of mitigation efforts has made the current spike in pediatric COVID-19 cases "sadly predictable."

The situation, he said, has allowed the virus to "really run wild."

"Among other things," Garza added, addressing the 0micron surge, "It's making many children sick and keeping them out of school [and] putting an increased number in the hospital."

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at
@D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]
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