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COVID shots among young children lag in Georgia
McKenzie Farias, 8, holds the hand of her father, Michael, as she receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 at a state-run site in Cranston, R.I., Nov. 4, 2021. As of Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, just over 17% of children in the U.S. ages 5 t
McKenzie Farias, 8, holds the hand of her father, Michael, as she receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 at a state-run site in Cranston, R.I., Nov. 4, 2021. As of Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, just over 17% of children in the U.S. ages 5 to 11 were fully vaccinated, more than two months after shots for them became available.

Two months after Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for children ages 5 to 11, just 27% have received at least one shot, according to Jan. 12 CDC data. Only 18%, or 5 million kids, have both doses, Kaiser Health News reported.

In Georgia, as well as other Southern states, the percentages are even lower.

Just 16.1 percent of the 5-to-11 age group in Georgia have had at least one shot, and 8.7 percent have received both doses. Only Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming have lower rates of fully vaccinated kids in this age group, according to a Kaiser analysis.

“That’s very, very disappointing,’’ said Dr. Hugo Scornik, a Conyers pediatrician who is president of the Georgia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to keep your child out of the hospital.”

The current virus surge — driven by the Omicron variant – has pushed COVID hospitalizations higher in children’s hospitals. Early this month, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta reported that it had 102 patients hospitalized in its system due to COVID – its highest number during the pandemic. Of those, 74% had at least one pre-existing medical condition.

“There’s a misconception that COVID doesn’t affect kids,’’ Scornik said. “We’re seeing tons of kids catching it.”

The national effort to vaccinate children has stalled even as the Omicron variant upends schooling for millions of children and their families amid staffing shortages, shutdowns and heated battles over how to safely operate.

Vaccination rates vary substantially across the country, a Kaiser Health analysis of the federal data shows. Nearly half of Vermont’s 5- to 11-year-olds are fully vaccinated, while fewer than 10% have gotten both shots in nine mostly Southern states.

Voices for Georgia’s Children, an advocacy group, called the Georgia vaccine rate for young children “disheartening.’’

“We think it is crucial for each person to do whatever they can to protect the health of children and those who care for them,’’ said Erica Fener Sitkoff, executive director of the Voices group.

“We are concerned too because we know that kids are not only behind on COVID vaccines, but behind on other standard pediatric vaccinations,’’ she said. “Missing shots to prevent mumps, measles, chicken pox and influenza, among other extremely contagious viruses, can result in serious illness and even death.”

Pediatricians nationally say the slow pace and geographic disparities are alarming, especially against the backdrop of record numbers of COVID cases and pediatric hospitalizations.

School-based vaccine mandates for students, which some pediatricians say are needed to boost rates substantially, remain virtually nonexistent.

In Louisiana, where 5% of kids ages 5 to 11 have been fully vaccinated, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, added the shot to the list of required school immunizations for the fall, over the objections of state legislators, who are mostly Republicans. The District of Columbia and California, where about 1 in 5 elementary school kids are fully vaccinated, have added similar requirements. But those places are exceptions.

Fifteen states, including Georgia, have banned COVID vaccine mandates in K-12 schools, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said Tuesday that it’s encouraging more pediatricians and family practice physicians to become COVID vaccine providers to help increase vaccination rates among children.

“We know that parents trust what their children’s health care providers tell them about the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccines,” said Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam. “And those same providers can also share information about the complications and serious illness a child might suffer if they are not vaccinated.”

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