Health officials worry about low COVID vaccination coverage for young children in Nevada – The Nevada Independent

Viktor Pulido received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine just in time for his first day of school as a kindergartener.

Victor, Not yet five years old at the time, he writhed as his second vaccination jab pierced his upper arm at the Washoe County Health District, but it was over so quickly that there wasn’t much time for fuss. His sister was almost two years old and imitated her older brother, but she also took it without causing too much drama.

“It was really fast. They’ve been shot before,” Victor’s mother, Carla Hernandez, said in an interview. We came for it, and we got out of there.My son had a low-grade fever that afternoon.We gave him Tylenol.That’s it.”

Hernández is relieved to have her son and toddler daughter vaccinated against COVID-19. She worries about the start of her new school year and how it will affect her family if her children are not fully vaccinated and exposed to COVID, flu and other viral illnesses. was

“My son had RSV when he started PreK last grade,” Hernández said, referring to common respiratory viruses. “In the end, he was hospitalized for his three days. He was on oxygen.”

Hernández said it’s easy to choose to vaccinate children, but immunization rates remain low among newly eligible children for COVID-19. Since the COVID-19 vaccine became available for young children in late June, he said, only about 4,100 children under the age of five have been vaccinated. That’s about 2% of her 202,000 children in her age group in Nevada.

The state’s under-five vaccination rate ranks 47th in the nation, ahead of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, according to an Aug. 3 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Misinformation and division have pushed the topic of vaccines onto the political stage from personal decisions made with the help of medical professionals. Anti-vaccine protesters are disrupting school board, county and city meetings across the country, spouting unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and fueling fears about vaccines.

Experts also believe the slow vaccination rate among young children is due to concerns about when the vaccine was developed. However, the consensus of pediatricians and medical experts is that the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect children, even those under the age of five, from the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death.

hesitant to trust

A breakdown of vaccines by population showed that as of Wednesday, children under five made up about 6.2% of the Nevada population, but only 0.2% of the vaccinated population. Hmm. state.

Improving vaccination coverage among the youngest may be difficult. Her July poll by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than four of her 10 parents vaccinated her eligible children under the age of 5 for COVID-19. I answer, “Absolutely not.”

Only 17% of respondents said they have vaccinated or plan to vaccinate their children. Less than a third of parents polled said they were waiting to see what vaccinations would be like, and 13% of parents said they would vaccinate their children only if necessary.

Sherilyn Duckworth, executive director of Immunize Nevada, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to providing outreach and access to vaccines, said this is why medical professionals have experienced vaccine hesitation. He said it wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last.

“Many parents are still at a stage where they are hesitant to vaccinate their children,” she said. “They are still hesitant to trust governments and believe these vaccines are safe for children.”

Part of the mistrust stems from what historically marginalized communities experienced at the hands of medical professionals. Examples include the Tuskegee experiment, in which black men were given syphilis to see how the untreated disease affected their bodies, according to Duckworth, and the “father of gynecology,” James Marion. • Includes experiments Sims did without using enslaved black women. He didn’t believe they felt pain, so he gave them anesthesia.

“Too many studies target people of color, leading to so many health disparities that governments must admit their wrongdoing,” Duckworth said. have to have these sensitive conversations, because it’s part of our history, right?

Executive Director of Immunize Nevada Dr. Sherilyn Duckworth assisting families outside the Washoe County Health District at the back-to-school immunization clinic in Reno, Saturday, August 13, 2022. (Trevor Bexon/The Nevada Independent)

Duckworth said the perception that COVID-19 doesn’t affect children as badly as it does adults has also made children reluctant to get vaccinated. He is less than 1% of her COVID deaths in Nevada, according to state data, and that age group is about 5.3% of all her COVID cases in the state. only occupied.

But Duckworth stressed that the perception that COVID doesn’t hurt children all that much is a myth. COVID can and does have a negative impact on children, she said, adding that COVID-infected children contribute to the spread of their communities and carry the disease to vulnerable populations such as grandparents. It’s possible, she added.

Existing COVID-19 vaccines offer protection against the serious illness caused by the currently circulating subspecies, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the Biden administration plans to offer a readjusted booster dose in the fall to increase the effectiveness of the COVID vaccine. Target both species.

Duckworth said Immunize Nevada is addressing vaccine hesitation by making health professionals accessible to parents and the general public and by making vaccine information available in a variety of formats, languages ​​and social media platforms. said that

The organization partners with local health districts to organize vaccine clinics for low-income communities, the undocumented, and those without health insurance. We also work with community leaders to build partnerships and spread word of mouth about vaccines.

Duckworth said Immunize Nevada is doing its best to reach out to as many people as possible. But she worries about how low vaccination coverage will affect her community when the new school year starts.

“I don’t want to scare anyone,” said Duckworth. “But we have to be realistic. COVID is not over.”

Duckworth said he is not concerned about whether vaccines for children under 5 will expire before they are used, and he believes more families will decide to have their children vaccinated. She added that she hopes people will become more comfortable with the vaccine as time goes on.

“yes, [children] Elastic. Yes, they are healthy and growing steadily,” Duckworth said. “But that doesn’t mean they won’t be diagnosed with the virus. That doesn’t mean the virus won’t take them as a host.”

A therapy dog ​​named Kona welcomes students at the back-to-school immunization clinic in Reno on Saturday, August 13, 2022. (Trevor Bexon/Nevada Independent)

Wariness over vaccines is nothing new

Natalie Vogel, a pediatrician and medical director of Northern Nevada HOPES, a federally accredited community health center in Reno, said this fall’s conversation about immunizing children will be about new vaccines. He says it’s the same year after year, except for one thing.

Vogel said parents are trying to make the best vaccine decisions based on the information available. But it’s not a new problem, she said.

“Once the vaccine came out in early 2021, we started getting magazine articles, and then press articles about vaccine hesitation. We did,” Vogel said. “For us, it was like, ‘Oh, now we can be in our game.'”

With the exception of the flu vaccine, most parents, with very few exceptions, are very receptive to routine immunizations, Vogel said. , noted that it tends to increase after a family member or friend has a bad flu.

Washington, DC is the only jurisdiction that requires students to have the COVID-19 vaccine. California has a pending statewide student COVID-19 vaccine mandate that has not yet been implemented. Twenty states, including Florida, South Dakota and Ohio, have banned mandatory COVID-19 vaccines.

While school districts and politicians are hesitant to require COVID-19 vaccines for school attendance, Nevada health districts are providing vaccines as part of back-to-school vaccine clinics. The state also made information about COVID-19 resources for testing, treatment, and vaccination available to schools and families in English and Spanish, and created a guide to keeping students and staff safe.

“This information is intended to remind all families that resources are available to keep everyone healthy when children return to school,” state epidemiologist Melissa・Peak Block said in a press release promoting the guide and materials.

Dr. Natalie Vogel, chief medical operator of Northern Nevada, poses for a portrait taken on August 9, 2022. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

When talking to patients about vaccines, Vogel sees himself as a storyteller, weaving together science, facts, and information to help patients make the best decisions for themselves and their families. Sometimes she talks with the patient about her own decisions regarding her family and her children.

“My patients feel more comfortable when I show my humanity,” she said.

The conversations are similar to those about wearing masks. Clinics still require masks, and if Vogel walks into a room where no parent or child is wearing a mask, she gently but firmly tells the patient: mask. Remember, when you’re wearing a mask, you’re protecting me. ”

If a patient decides not to be vaccinated, or if there are disagreements, Vogel said he understands that and will continue to engage with families and provide care.

Closing her office or denying medical care for those who are reluctant to vaccinate is not in the best interest of the community as a whole or the child. He acknowledged that striking a balance between communicating information and the science behind a vaccine while ensuring that people understand the need for a vaccine is a difficult exercise.

“The difficulty with vaccines is that you don’t vaccinate that one child to prevent him from getting sick, because you don’t know which child will get it and who will suffer,” Vogel said. says.

However, she encouraged everyone to try to vaccinate for the community.

“We live in a community of people,” she said. “We can’t predict who will get it, so we’re doing our best with the one tool she can to protect us from the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death.”

On August 7, 2022, Carla Hernández and her husband, Jesús Enrique Pulido, read to their children Isel and Viktor at their home in Reno. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Born and raised in Mexico before moving to Reno, Hernández, now 35, remembers getting the smallpox vaccine. The vaccine left a small round scar that looked like a small dent on my upper arm. Growing up, Hernández had a half-sister who contracted polio and suffered nerve damage and developmental complications because he had not been vaccinated against the disease.

As a mother of two children and part of a multi-generational family that includes older family members with pre-existing medical conditions, Hernandez said getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a top priority for her family. .

“It’s really important that my children are protected,” she said.

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