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Vaccination rate of young children fuels worry of post-Thanksgiving spike

Kevin Iwelumo, 8, gets his COVID-19 shot from

Kevin Iwelumo, 8, gets his COVID-19 shot from Dr. Sophia Jan at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park on Nov. 4. At left is Kevin's mother, Maryam Yusef. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Only 1 in 10 Long Island children ages 5 to 11 have received their first COVID-19 shot, adding to worries by educators and medical experts that the Thanksgiving holiday will bring a spike in cases.

Children have been eligible to receive the vaccine since Nov. 2, but only 23,435 of the 230,531 in that age group on Long Island — or 10.2% — have received at least one dose, according to state figures.

What to know

Only 1 in 10 Long Island children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one COVID-19 shot, state figures show.

Long Island educators and medical experts worry — if not expect — a bump in cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.

Educators say they are thankful that they are not faced with all the worries of a year ago, when a vaccine had yet to be approved.

"It's very disappointing," said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. "There may be waves of infection in December."

Suffolk had 9,155 children in that age group vaccinated, out of a total of 117,826, or 7.8%, according to state figures on Wednesday.

Nassau had 12.7%, or 14,280 of 112,705 children inoculated, the figures showed.

Nationally, 11.5% of kids in that age group have gotten at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization to a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for this age group. The vaccine involves two injections, given three weeks apart. It contains a lower dose than the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine used for people age 12 and older. Research shows that the vaccine is about 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5 through 11.

For all the concern, Island educators say they are more optimistic than last year at this time, when there was no vaccine.

Jericho Superintendent Henry Grishman said he is confident that, if a bump occurs, the district's safety protocols and tracking of cases will help control it.

For now, polls show many parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children. Medical experts note that the shots are a safe and effective way to fight the virus and prevent serious illness.

The number of children and adolescents admitted to the hospital increased nearly fivefold over the summer months amid the delta surge, according to the CDC. More than 8,300 kids ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized with COVID-19, the agency said.

Other concerns: More travel, rising rates

The low rate of vaccination among kids is among several reasons that medical experts worry about a post-Thanksgiving bump in cases, for both children and adults. Some 53 million Americans are expected the travel for the holiday, an increase of 13% over last year, according to AAA.

In addition, air travel is projected to jump 80% above last year, AAA said. Temperatures are trending downward, meaning people will spend more time indoors. And the spread of the virus is already occurring at a disturbing pace. The nation's seven-day daily average of new cases is up nearly 30% in the last two weeks, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Long Island educators are holding their breath, and some have sent out missives to parents reminding them of ways to stay virus-safe over the holiday.

"I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of our stakeholders to continue to embrace the health and safety protocols designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19," said Riverhead Superintendent Augustine Tornatore in a written message to the school community.

Many Long Island students are off Thursday and Friday of this week, coming back into the buildings on Monday.

Baldwin Superintendent Shari Camhi said she's seen an uptick in cases since Halloween and expects that rise to continue through the holidays.

She said the school system is working with the Mount Sinai health system to provide a vaccination bus on Monday. The 30 available appointments were filled in a day, she said.

Causes for optimism

Educators say they are thankful that they are not faced with all the worries of a year ago.

Heading into Thanksgiving last year, Long Island and the nation were already in a fall surge that had 1,000 people a day here sick with the virus. It was a time of virus hot spots, microclusters and hybrid instruction. Many Island schools made the week after Thanksgiving completely remote instruction, hoping to stave off a spread of cases.

Several Island educators say they don't foresee that switch to full remote instruction this year.

By Dec. 2 of last year, the number of hospitalized patients in the state due to the virus grew by 242 in a day, bringing the state's total to 3,774 — 718 of them in intensive care units.

As of Wednesday, the state had 2,580 people hospitalized, with 498 in ICUs.

Last Dec. 3, Suffolk County surpassed 1,000 cases in a day for the first time since April 23, 2020. Nassau had 757 cases that day.

As of Wednesday, the state reported that Nassau and Suffolk had a combined total of 1,055 cases.

Grishman said that about 90% of his Jericho staff and 75% of older students are vaccinated. He didn't have figures for the younger kids.

"Last November, nobody was vaccinated," he said. "This year, I am a lot more optimistic."

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