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What's contributing to low child vaccination rates?

St. Louis County leads the state in child COVID-19 vaccinations.

ST. LOUIS — Kids aren't getting COVID-19 vaccines at the same rates as adults: and some health experts say misinformation and misunderstanding could be why.

“The vaccines for children are safe, effective and it's what we should do,” said Dr. Jason Newland, infectious disease expert at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

In Missouri, less than 25% of kids ages 5 to 17 are currently fully vaccinated, compared to nearly 56% of the total population.

St. Louis County leads the state in vaccination among the 5-17 age group with 43.8% fully vaccinated. In St. Louis city, it’s 38.1% of kids in that age group and 37.3% in St. Charles County. In Madison County Illinois, 27% of kids age 5-11 and 54% of kids age 12-17 are fully vaccinated; in St. Clair County, the rates are 16% and 57% respectively.

Kids are less likely to develop severe infection, but they can pass the virus to others just as easily as adults, and they do get sick.

“A normal, healthy child can still land in the hospital," said Dr. Newland. "Not only that, a normal healthy child can suffer from a severe complication known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. It'll land you in the hospital, could land a child in an ICU, and occurs four to six weeks after a mild infection.”

Dr. Newland said fears of another condition that has gotten a lot of attention, myocarditis, are misdirected.

“Natural infection causes more myocarditis than the vaccine. It's a rare complication of the vaccine. More importantly, is that this rare complication of the vaccine has been mild and it has been resolved with therapies. So if you look at risk benefit, your risk of worse disease from myocarditis due to natural infection is much, much greater than from the vaccine,” he explained.

He also believes many parents are taking a “wait and see” approach to vaccinations, thinking it is just too soon. However, he pointed out that if the vaccines were going to have widespread dangerous side effects, we’d know by now.

“Millions and millions of doses have been given, and we know that's not happening,” he said.

Athletes and kids with breathing conditions would especially benefit from vaccination, he said.

“There's only one contraindication or one reason not to get the vaccine, and that's if you are allergic to one of the components of the vaccine,” he said. The most common is an ingredient called polyethylene glycol, also found in over-the-counter laxatives.

If a child is vaccinated, he said their symptoms are going to be much milder if they do still get infected.

“I'm thankful that my kids are vaccinated, and I'm sure they're playing with unvaccinated folks. But I know that them being vaccinated puts them at much, much, much, much better off that if they get it, they're going to have a cold,” he said. “I'm OK with that risk because I think that the benefit of them playing and being with their friends outweighs their risk of COVID-19 when they're vaccinated.”

To keep kids safe, Dr. Newland also recommended masking when appropriate and ensuring the adults they rely on stay healthy, too.

“One-hundred-and-fifty-thousand children have lost a loved one sometime during this pandemic,” he said. “Everyone being vaccinated in a home is the safest thing for everybody.”

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