Stamford Advocate (Sunday)

Vaccinatio­n rates show gap between kids, parents

- By Julia Bergman

Only 49 percent of youths ages 12 to 17 have been fully vaccinated, just as schools prepare to reopen in a resurgence of the coronaviru­s.

With the rate of vaccinatio­ns among adults far higher than that of youths, data from the state Department of Public Health suggests that thousands of parents chose to take the COVID-19 shots for themselves but have not gotten their children inoculated.

One of those people is Brian, a father of three who lives in Fairfield County.

The 44-year-old, who declined to give his last name, said he sat for the immunizati­on in March due to his job in the medical field. But he said he wants to see long-term safety data before making a decision to get his kids, ages 12 and 14, inoculated. He also has a 10-year old, who is not yet eligible due to age restrictio­ns.

“With my children, I’m not willing to take that risk,” he said, adding that his kids have received other vaccines, including the flu shot.

Brian’s view helps explain why, as of Thursday, 71 percent of all Connecticu­t residents eligible for the

vaccine — ages 12 and up — had rolled up their sleeves for the shots. But only 49 percent of youths ages 12 to 17 have been fully vaccinated, just as schools prepare to reopen in a resurgence of the coronaviru­s.

The numbers show a very wide range of vaccinatio­n rates for that age group. Thompson, Canterbury and Hartford hold down the low end at 25 percent. Nine towns stand above 75 percent for youths — including Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Westport and Wilton.

Low rates, strict rules

The low vaccinatio­n rates for kids compared with adults is of “tremendous concern,” said Dr. Thomas Murray, a pediatric infectious disease doctor at Yale New Haven Health. His concern is heightened, he said, “especially with the delta variant being highly contagious and many areas not mandating masks for schools.”

Gov. Ned Lamont might reaffirm his previous order of masks for all schools in the coming days, though his emergency powers expire Sept. 30. Or he might leave the decision to local boards of education. Either way, many public health officials warn that without higher inoculatio­n rates for children, and with those under 12 still unable to get vaccinated, schools will have to rely on other mitigation measures.

That includes stricter distancing and mask rules, including requiring all students to wear masks regardless of vaccinatio­n status, to make in-person learning safe.

This is all playing out, as Connecticu­t, like most states, is seeing an increase in infections among children, due to the more virulent delta variant.

“Our hospital has not seen an increase in children getting hospitaliz­ed with COVID like other parts of country have seen,” Murray said. “It’s unclear if we’re behind and it’s coming or if our vaccinatio­n rates in the adult population will help curb that.”

Rich towns, high youth vaccinatio­ns

The newly released data on young people ages 12 to 17 shows that parents in affluent towns near cities and along the shoreline are more likely to have children who are vaccinated than are parents in rural areas and cities.

Another pattern emerges from the data: Towns with higher overall vaccinatio­n rates tend to have rates for youths closer to the overall levels. Greenwich, Westport and Darien, for example, have virtually the same vaccinatio­n rates for people ages 12 to 17 as they do for everyone.

That means those towns probably have fewer people like Brian who are willing to be inoculated but skittish about their children — although numbers are impossible to glean because the data is not broken out by which adults have children.

By contrast, cities and towns with the lowest overall rates of vaccinatio­n — Thompson, Hartford, New Britain, Bridgeport, Waterbury and Windham, for example, all under 55 percent — tend to show the biggest gap between youth rates and the rates for all residents. All of those places had youth rates under 29 percent.

In all, so far a total of 2.2 million state residents are fully vaccinated out of 3.1 million eligible. That includes 140,802 youths ages 12 to 17, out of 286,082 in that age group.

A Hearst Connecticu­t Media examinatio­n of vaccinatio­n data on Aug. 7 showed a close link between overall rates in cities and towns and the percent of adults with bachelor’s degrees.

The two-dose PfizerBioN­Tech vaccine is the only shot currently authorized for age group although Moderna, the other company that uses so-called mRNA technology, says its vaccines are also safe for teens. As of Thursday, 58 percent of Connecticu­t residents ages 12 to 17 had one shot, up from 55 percent a week earlier.

Dangers of delta in youths

The surge of delta cases has led to an uptick in COVID-19 vaccinatio­ns here and across the country.

“Delta has unfortunat­ely changed the game in terms of what we have to expect,” said Dr. Magna Dias, chair of pediatrics at Bridgeport Hospital.

“The load of the virus for the delta variant is 1,000 times higher than original variant and because of that it’s a lot more infectious,” Dias said. “It’s similar to chicken pox. We would never send kids to school with chicken pox.”

But while the symptoms of chicken pox are obvious, coronaviru­s symptoms can mirror other illnesses like the common cold and often at the beginning of an infection, people can have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all even if their viral load is high.

“All of that means it’s a little more difficult to identify the kids coming to school and getting others infected,” Dias said.

That’s why she “strongly advises” schools impose mask mandates for all students regardless of vaccinatio­n status.

Most kids who contract COVID-19 will have a mild case, but one in 10 will have persistent symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, Dias said.

“We have seen kids unfortunat­ely with significan­t consequenc­es including stroke,” she said.

A few months ago, Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital opened a new Pediatric Specialty Center for Long COVID for children who are still experienci­ng lingering symptoms.

Emergency status a hindrance

In Connecticu­t, four people under the age of 19 have died with COVID-19 out of more than 66,000 identified cases — a fatality rate of one in 16,500. Nationally, the rate is significan­tly higher according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But comparison­s are difficult because of widely varying data collection methods.

Unless the fatality rate for children increases significan­tly, Brian, the 44-yearold father in Fairfield County, said he’s not likely to change his mind about getting his kids vaccinated.

His kids attend public schools and if their school district were to impose a vaccine mandate for students or require them to go back to remote learning, Brian said he would consider sending them to private school instead.

Dias said she’s come across parents who are vaccinated but their children are not. The reasons vary with many citing the fact that the vaccine is only authorized for emergency use and has not yet received full approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administra­tion.

Dias and others suspect that with the vaccine fully approved, more parents will be convinced to get their children immunized.

“Full approval will help us tremendous­ly in being able to give parents and families a level of comfort on the safety of the vaccine,” said Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticu­t Associatio­n of Public School Superinten­dents.

Superinten­dents are closely watching vaccinatio­n rates in their communitie­s, “but we also we can’t police every child,” Rabinowitz said. “We have to put other mitigation strategies in place, mainly the masking.”

Not worried in Bridgeport

Rabinowitz said superinten­dents hope Lamont will put in place a statewide mask mandate. Lamont, who was on vacation last week, is expected to release safety protocols soon for the start of the school year.

In the meantime, schools have released their own guidance.

The Bridgeport school system, now at 29 percent among eligible youths fully vaccinated, is implementi­ng many of the safety protocols it had in place last year, said Superinten­dent Mike Testani. To start, students will be required to wear masks in school buildings and on school buses

The low rate among city youths doesn’t worry Testani, who pointed to the various summer programs the district put on involving hundreds of kids and teens without any positive COVID-19 cases.

Last school year, Bridgeport students spent 159 of 177 days in the classroom, with an average of 11,000 to 13,000 students per day plus 3,000 staff members. Fewer than 520 Covid cases were reported among students and staff last school year and the vast majority were attributed to contact out of school, Testani said.

Testani said like many other school officials he worries about the long-term impacts of keeping kids out of the classroom. Despite an uptick in infections, Connecticu­t is nowhere near where it was during other surges, and remains well below the national average.

The delta surge in Connecticu­t is expected to wane by the end of September, per some public health experts “which will to coincide nicely with start of school,” Testani said.

“After the first couple of weeks for parents sending their kids into the classrooms for the first time, that level of anxiety will subside,” he added, “and a sense of normalcy will set in.”

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