ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As students head back into the classroom, vaccination rates remain relatively low among children and teenagers in the area.
In the Finger Lakes region, only 42% of children ages 12-15 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub.
In Monroe County, 46% of kids between those ages have been fully vaccinated. But in counties like Genesee and Wyoming, it’s much lower — at 23%.
“There are certain areas that are definitely less uptake than others in certain demographics. Some of it’s been in the rural population, some of it’s been in the minority population, but we’re continuing to advocate and talk to parents and kids about the importance of vaccination,” said Dr. Stephen Schultz, a pediatrician and the Rochester Regional Health Pediatric Medical Director for Monroe County and Fingerlakes Medical Associates.
Last school year, there was relatively low transmission of COVID-19 in schools. But with the Delta variant spreading, there’s a little more concern about its impact on schools this fall.
“Last year, the strain was not nearly as infectious as the Delta variant, the Delta variant is four to five times more infectious,” said Dr. Steven Cook, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Golisano Children’s Hospital.
At least 1-thousand schools in 35 states have already had to close for in-person learning due to the virus, according to Burbio, a data service in New York that is tracking K-12 school reopening trends.
“That’s why it’s all the more important that we follow all the rules and things that we’ve set out that we know work, like masking, like social distancing whenever possible, like increasing the ventilation in rooms and doing surveillance, testing, and cleaning procedures and protocols,” Dr. Schulz said.
If vaccination is shown to help decrease transmission, why aren’t more children over the age of 12 getting vaccinated?
Doctors say some families are worried about possible vaccine side effects and they want more research. However, health experts say any side effects would show up relatively quickly.
“Vaccines cause side effects in two ways. Immediately within a day or so, like sore arm, fever, chills, headache… or in two or three weeks, and that’s where you get a type of immune-cross reaction,” Dr. Cook explained. “So if we don’t see something in two or three weeks, we don’t see it years later, like cancer or infertility or things like that.”
“So anyone who’s like, ‘Well, I want to see the long term side effects.’ We’ve seen them, there’s millions and millions of doses being administered in this country. We know what we’re seeing,” Dr Cook said.
Other families are worried about children catching myocarditis, an inflammation of the middle layer of the heart, but Dr. Schulz said that’s pretty rare.
“A study actually just came out this last week that showed the risk of having myocarditis from getting COVID itself is actually almost 40 times greater than the risk of getting myocarditis from the vaccine,” Dr. Schulz said. “I haven’t had any patients myself that have had that side effect itself.”
Experts say the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks. They say even if you get a breakthrough case, vaccines are helpful.
“If you got COVID and you had a stuffy nose after the vaccine, that’s acceptable. You know, these vaccines were designed to not break the healthcare system and to keep people alive. They’re doing a very, very good job with that,” Dr. Cook said.
Children under the age of 12 still can’t get vaccinated. Doctors say the best thing you can do to protect them this school year is to get vaccinated yourself.
“A study came out just this past week from the CDC and they looked at states that had very low vaccination rates and kids in those states were three, almost four times more likely to get Coronavirus than in states with high vaccination rates,” Dr. Cook said.
If a student does catch COVID-19, experts say most cases are asymptomatic or very mild.
“The fact remains, vaccination is the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and to protect our children. So, you know, for those 12 and up, we’re definitely encouraging vaccination. For those parents who have younger children, we’re encouraging the parents to be vaccinated, because that’s the best way to protect them in that situation,” Dr. Schulz said.
Whether vaccinated or not, experts remind you: any person infected with COVID-19 has to quarantine.