Q: How important is it for young children and adolescents to get their COVID-19 vaccine?
A: Young children and adolescents make up a large proportion of COVID-19 cases in Hamilton County. As of last week, residents younger than 20 years of age contributed 19% of cases (the 20-to-30-years-old age group contributed the most at 20%). Nationally, children represented 14% of total cumulative cases early in the pandemic, but now make up 24% of new reported weekly cases, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
As of May, nearly 4 million children tested positive for COVID-19, and 16,500 have been hospitalized. Although this age group has less-severe disease compared to adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that hospitalization rates in the 12-to-17-years-old age group recently have increased compared to earlier in the year. Some required admission to the intensive care unit and mechanical ventilation.
Hispanics and Blacks were the groups represented the most, consistent with other studies showing an increase incidence of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority populations. Most had at least one underlying medical condition — obesity, chronic lung disease and neurological disorders were the most common — but many did not. The report concluded that even healthy adolescents could still have severe disease. For comparison, the study also compared hospitalization rates to that of influenza and found that the rates of COVID-19 admissions were three times more than for influenza during comparable time periods. These admissions are preventable by assuring this group gets vaccinated.
The most recent Hamilton County data indicate that, of the eligible residents in the 12-to-15-years-old age group, almost 14% had received their first COVID-19 vaccine. This number is reassuring, but is less than the national average of 20% for the same age group.
Given the increase in hospitalizations in this age group, it is important to continue vaccination efforts. As the focus of mass vaccination sites shifts to local outreach efforts and physicians' offices, access to the vaccine will be even easier.
Additionally, ongoing studies are assessing COVID-19 vaccines for children less than 12 years of age and may be available by the end of the year. The Hamilton County Health Department encourages adolescents to get their vaccine to protect themselves and others as well as to prevent hospitalizations.
Visit the health department website (health.hamiltontn.org) for information on vaccine site locations and times. The Riverpark site is open, and vaccines are now available at the department's clinics at Sequoyah and Birchwood. No appointment is necessary. Vaccines also will be given at the Riverfront Nights concert at Ross's Landing on June 26.
Fernando Urrego, M.D., is the interim health officer at the Hamilton County Health Department and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.