Doctors urging adolescents 12 and older to get vaccinated

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During the first four days that adolescents ages 12-15 were eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, 2,200 Yolo County junior-high and high-school students did so, drawing praise from local health officials. But in the 18 days that followed — despite numerous clinics held on school campuses throughout the county — just 2,000 more did. That means of the 11,000 Yolo County residents in the 12-15 age group, more than 60 percent remain unvaccinated. Hoping to improve those numbers, the county’s education and health offices teamed up Thursday for a webinar aimed at convincing students and parents that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective. The panel featured six physicians, including Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson as well as local pediatricians Dr. Mary Ann Limbos of CommuniCare and Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia of UC Davis, and was held not long before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report about increasing hospitalizations from COVID-19 among young people ages 12 to 17. Researchers have said the increase may be related to more transmissible variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, the return to in-person instruction for many students as well as changes in behavior, including less physical distancing and mask wearing throughout the country. Locally, more than 1,700 Yolo County children have been infected with COVID-19 and two were hospitalized with a serious condition called Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), which is a known complication of COVID, said Sisson. “While most serious and deadly COVID infections do happen in adults, it’s important to note that kids do get infected with COVID-19, some get very sick and some even die,” she noted. “We’ve been fortunate in Yolo County that no children have died from COVID,” Sisson said, but “across California, 21 children have died from COVID-19.” Additionally, as with adults, some children infected with COVID-19 have long-lasting symptoms known as “long COVID.” “One study from the United Kingdom estimated that 15 percent of children infected with COVID still had symptoms five weeks after infection. So, yes, COVID in kids can be serious,” said Sisson. And while the vaccine does come with side effects for many people, the most common one seen in Pfizer’s clinic trial of teens, Sisson said, was pain at the injection site, “a sore arm about 80 percent of the time. Other common side effects included fatigue, headache, chills, muscle aches, fever and joint paint but “in the the clinical trial, there were no serious adverse events related to vaccination seen,” said Sisson. The panel of physicians at Thursday’s webinar included doctors representing some of the communities that have been most vaccine hesitant locally, including Russian-speaking residents as well as Black and Latino residents. Murray-Garcia said distrust of the medical system “is not unusual and it’s not unfounded,” but also noted that Blacks and Latinos have died of COVID-19 at a much higher rate than white folks. “This has been a much deadlier experience,” she said. “We have lost proportionately many more people than other groups.” It’s so important, Murray-Garcia said, “for us to think beyond our fear about the history of racism in medicine, which is real, and to really consider that this is an important step for our families, because we are dying disproportionately from COVID and unnecessarily, especially with the creation of this vaccine.” Among children who die of COVID, three out of four are Black or Latino or Native American, she said. “Of those who get this very … serious disease, MIS-C, three out of four of those children will be Black or Latino and we don’t make up anywhere near that proportion of the population generally,” she said. “So there are reasons for us to take that recommendation to get vaccines very seriously.” Murray-Garcia added that she studies the history of how different groups have been experimented on and treated by the American healthcare system and “I’m here to lend my voice to confidence, to help you be confident in making the choice to get this vaccine for your children.” Dr. Jose Cueto, a Sutter Health OB/GYN, echoed Murray-Garcia, saying, “the Latino community is … predominately at risk to get COVID and to not get vaccinated.” “I’m here just to reiterate it’s a very safe vaccine and it prevents COVID and it’s safe for children 12 and up,” he said, adding that those children can help influence their parents to get vaccinated as well. Dr. Yekaterina Axelrod, a Russian-speaking Kaiser physician, said, “I’ve had a very disheartening experience of taking care of a large Russian population. Some of the first folks who were infected in Sacramento County came from one Russian church and many of those people spent a lot of time in our ICU and some of them died. “And unfortunately,” Axelrod said, “even after all that, many of the Russians still decline vaccinations. And just like everybody else said, there is nothing dangerous about the vaccines. Yes, some people experience side effects. Most of the time it’s just pain in the arm. So I encourage every Russian person, and every person, to get vaccinated.” And that goes for all eligible children as well, said Dr. John Belko, a Kaiser pediatric disease specialist. “I definitely have had the opportunity of taking care of kids with COVID, so yes, it does happen. And while it does not happen as often as adults get sick with COVID, their severe disease can actually be just as bad,” said Belko. “In our organization, we’ve had two children who have died of COVID,” he explained. “We’ve had 34 admissions for COVID … requiring treatment and oxygen and that sort of thing. The other thing is while kids may get COVID and very often be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic from their initial COVID infection, a fair proportion, particularly those who are obese or have decreased activity or may be pre-diabetic, we’ve definitely had quite a few new onset of diabetes in adolescence presenting. “There is definitely morbidity associated with COVID-19 infection and while it is disproportionately affecting youth from African-American, Latino or Native American communities, it affects everybody across the board,” said Belko. The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use in everyone ages 12 and up and Belko said authorization for children under 12 could come as soon late August. Vaccines are plentiful in Yolo County, including at West Sacramento City Hall, Woodland Community College, Winters Healthcare, the UC Davis ARC, healthcare providers and pharmacies, as well as at county-run clinics. Parental consent is required for minors. Sisson noted that Yolo County clinics can obtain that consent three ways: in person, if the parent accompanies their child to the clinic; via a permission form signed by the parent and brought by the child to the clinic; and over the phone at a clinic site. Visit to learn more and print out a minor consent form. For assistance in making a vaccine appointment or finding a walk-in clinic, visit or call 1-833-422-4255

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