Nearly 70% of children ages 12 to 17 years old on Long Island and across New York State have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in what medical experts on Thursday called a "milestone" moment ushered in partly by parental worries stoked by the omicron surge.
CDC data shows that 79.8% of children in that age group statewide have received at least one shot of the vaccine as of Feb. 2, and 69.4% have received two shots. On Long Island, the percentages are 77.3% and 68%.
Medical experts said that amid two years of mostly dreary news during the pandemic, the numbers were a hopeful development.
What to know
- Nearly 70% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 years old on Long Island and across New York State have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Medical experts said the omicron surge is one reason more parents have decided to get their children inoculated.
- Parents are also worried about MIS-C, a dangerous COVID-19-related syndrome, and the fact unvaccinated children are more likely to have to miss school and other events, and suffer social isolation.
"The fact that we have hit a milestone for the 12- to 17-year-olds is really very exciting, because every dose of vaccine is another step forward to getting kids protected" from the virus, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital.
"The fact that these numbers are so strong really helps us to say we’re not going to have super-spreaders in schools," she added. "We’re not going to have huge numbers of kids winding up in the hospital or having long-term COVID."
Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of the Northwell Health vaccine program and a pediatric emergency doctor at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, said he senses a "paradigm shift" as increasing numbers of young people get inoculated.
"I think it’s certainly a great milestone," Harris said. He added that everyone should make sure they get the second shot as well as the booster.
He said he believes the record-breaking omicron spike prompted many parents to get their children vaccinated.
"I think that the omicron variant and the tidal wave of diagnoses we saw especially in children was a wake-up call for many parents to get those sleeves rolled up and get their kids vaccinated," he said.
At the height of the surge, he said, one of every two children arriving in his hospital’s pediatric emergency room was testing positive for COVID-19.
"I think New Yorkers remember just how bad it was in the early phase of the pandemic and … the thought that children could get sick to such a degree and in such large numbers, I think is a terrifying thought to any parent," he said.
Another motivating factor, Harris said: Unvaccinated children are more likely to miss school, while being unable to participate in some events and potentially facing social isolation.
"I think those weigh heavily upon parents and I’m glad that they saw this as an impetus to have their kids vaccinated," he said.
Nachman said she has seen a collective understanding of sorts that has emerged among many parents: The vaccines are safe, providing their children more freedom, while protecting them from serious illness or death.
"I think it’s a lot of group dynamics," Nachman said. "I think kids want to do after-school activities and vaccination protects them during those after-school activities."
"And kids really want to hang out with their friends, and parents recognize that this is just another way to protect their children," she added. "When they are younger, we put them in car seats. When they are older, we tell them to wear seat belts. This is just another way."
DAILY POSITIVITY RATE
7-DAY POSITIVITY RATE
Source: New York State Department of Health
Increasing cases of MIS-C, or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, have worried some parents. It's a rare but serious condition that emerges in some children weeks after COVID-19 infections.
The condition causes the inflammation of body parts including, potentially, the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"In such a short span of time … getting all of those middle school and high school kids COVID-vaccinated means they’re not going to get MIS-C," Nachman said. "The kids who are being hospitalized for MIS-C have not been vaccinated."
Harris said children infected with MIS-C "are some of the sickest kids I’ve seen in my almost decade of being in emergency medicine" at the hospital.
Cohen Children's Hospital has treated nearly two dozen children with the syndrome in the last two weeks, he said.
He said he is hopeful the trend of teenagers getting vaccinated will trickle down eventually to younger children, who have gotten the shots at far lower rates. On Long Island, according to the CDC data, only about one of every four children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated.
To address those children who are unvaccinated, both doctors believe mandatory shots are a good idea in the same way children must be inoculated against the measles, chickenpox and other diseases before they are allowed to attend school.
And they both believe that will happen.
"COVID right now spreads like wildfire, the omicron variant in particular," Harris said. "I think that it is very likely that similar to other highly communicable diseases that can interrupt society very significantly, that this likely will become a mandatory vaccine."
Despite a decline in omicron infections, the pandemic is not yet over and mediation measures, including mask wearing, may be necessary for some time, according to two leading doctors.
During a Newsday Live panel Thursday, Dr. Andrew Handel, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and Dr. Chid Iloabachie, associate chairperson of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream, answered questions about the current state of the pandemic.
"No, we are not done with this pandemic and a lot of that has to do with the lack of health care equity throughout the world," Iloabachie said, pointing to a lack of vaccines and therapeutics allowing the virus to continue spreading and more variants to emerge.
Handel said his hospital is treating about 100 COVID patients, including several children with the dangerous post-COVID inflammatory syndrome.
Patients with MIS-C, Handel said, often are admitted four weeks after battling COVID and suffering with high fever, gastrointestinal issues and low blood pressure.
"We are seeing the numbers going up as the wave goes down," he said.
With infections still high in the community, Handel said Long Islanders should continue to wear masks indoors and with large crowds.
New state data showed the surge is still not over, with 1,202 new daily cases on Long Island on Wednesday and a seven-day positivity average of 6.35%.
With Robert Brodsky
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