Concern over low COVID-19 vaccination rates among young children



COVID-19 vaccination rates for infants and preschoolers continue to be low, while rates for children aged 5 to 11 have slowed, leaving local health officials concerned. 

According to the state's vaccination database, many city and towns are slowly increasing their vaccination rates, but the numbers vary significantly, especially for children 5 and under. 

Four percent of Meriden's children under 5 have received their initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but less than 1% are fully vaccinated since the vaccine became available in late June. Cheshire, however, reports that over 20% of children under 5 have received their first dose and 7% are fully vaccinated.

Data also show that vaccination rates for children aged 5-11 peaked soon after CDC approval for that age group in November but have since tapered off. In Meriden, 14% of children in that age group received at least one dose by Dec. 1. Now, 40% of children 5-11 have received their first dose and 35% are fully vaccinated. 

Lea Crown, director of health and human services in Meriden, encourages vaccination and boosters for all eligible age groups.

"Persons are best protected when they are up to date on their vaccinations," she said. "The vaccines are protection against getting seriously ill — or even hospitalized — from and as a result of COVID-19." 

Southington Pediatric Associates will hold a free vaccination clinic for all ages on Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 209 Main St. in Southington. No appointment is needed. A health insurance card and photo ID are recommended, but no one will be turned away for lack of insurance or ID, according to organizers. 

Current statistics

Since COVID-19 vaccine approval for children under 5 years old was announced in late June, 10% of Connecticut kids aged 6 months to 4 years have received at least one dose of the vaccine while single dose vaccination rates for kids aged 5 to 11 are at 55%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its latest update from Aug. 31. The vaccination rates for both age groups in the state are higher than the national average — 7% and 37% respectively

Despite the low rates, there was a 2% increase in vaccinations for Connecticut children ages 6 months to 4 years old and a 1% increase in vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, according to an analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics conducted over the last three weeks.

Hesitancy

Kate Glendon, public health specialist for the Chesprocott Health District, which covers Cheshire, Prospect and Wolcott, said there are many factors that may contribute to the hesitancy to vaccinate children, such as timing, prior exposure to the virus and general access to the vaccines. 

"Sometimes the child has already had COVID, so [families] are waiting it out, especially with the young ones who are not sure how their body would react to the first dose," she explained. "Maybe they were traveling. It is the summer when [vaccines] came out, so maybe they were waiting."

Cheshire is one of the few towns in the state with higher vaccination rates for children and has been working closely with Griffin Hospital and the state Department of Public Health to promote vaccines for children. 

"We're trying to educate [families] as much as we can to [help] understand that this age population is still, even though they're healthy, a vulnerable population," she said. "We want to protect them."

Tina Valentin, director of childcare operations at the Meriden-New Britain-Berlin YMCA, adds that other potential factors are the lack of urgency and proper education. For example, she explained that many families the YMCA works with are new parents, especially in the daycare program. 

"As crazy as it sounds, [families] don't call their providers. They call us," she said.

Valentin hopes that parents and caregivers will take time to educate themselves on the importance of pediatric vaccines and remain vigilant to any symptoms of illness. 

‘Mistakes’

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, spoke with members of the Community Health Center for a podcast on Aug. 29 and reflected on how the CDC has fueled confusion regarding pediatric vaccines. 

"To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic and pretty public mistakes during COVID," she said in a video for the agency’s staff. "From testing to data to communications, it's the agency's responsibility to learn from those lessons and learn better." 

However, she said that the numbers and data are proof of the vaccine's safety for all age groups. 

She said 600 million doses of the vaccines have been administered in the U.S. thus far, proving that they are safe. She explained that most people experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms or death are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. 

She also said that COVID-19 had been one of the top killers of children under 18 and the number one infectious cause of death. She encourages everyone not to wait to get the booster and that there's never a wrong time to get the shot, especially coming into the new school year.  

To learn more about pediatric COVID-19 vaccines, visit the CT Vaccine Portal

cvillalonga@record-journal.com203-317-2448

Health Equity Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation by clicking here https://bit.ly/3dtcJdS. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.



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