National adolescent COVID vax rate drops again

CDC: Lowest weekly dose count just recorded

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — By now, pharmacist Yung-En Fung has participated in a number of COVID-19 vaccine clinics. But she doubts she’ll ever see any like the ones last spring that drew hundreds of adolescents in.

“Maybe because a lot of people got the vaccination during that first wave,” Fung said. “But also because, as things feel more normal, a lot of times that urgency doesn’t feel as pressing to get vaccinated.”

It is true that in Massachusetts, at least, a lot of adolescents did get vaccinated in those first weeks after the FDA approved the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine for use in 12- to 17-year-olds. In fact, the CDC reports Massachusetts leads the nation in percent of adolescents vaccinated against COVID. As of last week, 67% of those under 18 eligible for the shots were fully protected. Another 12% had received at least one dose.

But nationally, the numbers are far less impressive than that. The CDC says, nationally, 56% of 12- to 17-year-olds have received one dose of vaccine, but just 45% are fully vaccinated.

“Forty-five to fifty percent is a good start, but we need to get up to 80% or higher,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

>>>MORE: COVID-19 updates: 21 new deaths, 1,184 new cases reported Tuesday

Schaffner said vaccinating adolescents is key to ending the pandemic simply because of the way they live.

“Adolescents are friendly. They’re with each other, they’re with their pals, they’re in school, they have athletic activities, they’ll go to college and room together,” he said. “So they’re in social groups all the time, often indoors. This is a setting where communicable diseases such as COVID, such as influenza or any of the others can spread very, very readily.”

Last May, adolescents readily took to getting vaccinated. Just after FDA approval, 12- to 17-year-olds received 1.6 million doses in one week. That record was never topped. Through mid-July, the weekly numbers dropped before picking up briefly for about a month. But for the past seven weeks it’s been all downhill, with the CDC reporting fewer and fewer doses of COVID vaccine going to this important demographic. Last week, just 159,000 doses were administered to adolescents, the lowest number yet.

Schaffner said vaccinating adolescents is important to curb transmission, but it will also help keep them from getting sick.

“A normal healthy adolescent can be put into the intensive care unit in 48 hours by COVID,” Schaffner said. “It can move very very rapidly.”

And adolescents can also suffer from ‘Long Covid,’ he said, something particularly devastating for those trying to concentrate on academics or sports.

“These symptoms that last for weeks and even months afterward,” Schaffner said. “Aches and pains, brain fog, just not feeling as energetic as usual.”

While large clinics likely won’t be coming back, Fung hopes booster clinics might bring in some of those teens that didn’t get vaccinated in the spring and summer. Or maybe traveling for the holidays will do it.

“Getting vaccinated is a way to protect the people around you and yourself,” she said. “Still important. So hopefully people who need the vaccine will come forward.”

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