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Great Health Divide: Youth vaccination key to achieving herd immunity

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 6:12 PM CDT
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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Health leaders believe the end of the coronavirus pandemic will happen once herd immunity is achieved. That’s when about 70% of the population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

While coronavirus cases and deaths are declining, inoculation rates are also starting to dip.

Region 6, which includes Central Louisiana parishes, is near 21% fully vaccinated. At that rate, the region will be slow to reach the herd immunity status.

State doctors hope to see the fully vaccinated data increase as people 12 and older now have access to the shots.

“It is critically important to get kids vaccinated,” Dr. David Holcombe, Office of Public Health Region Six Medical Director, said. “The reason is not just because they get sick, but because they transmit.”

Holcombe said community spread is a concern - especially as the virus evolves.

“As long as you have a group of people in the population who can transmit, then you’re going to have problems,” he said. “You have the disease percolating around and the possibility of developing variants, worse than the ones we already have.”

Children are not immune to COVID-19. More than 50,000 people ages 5-17 in the state contracted the virus. That same age group makes up only 1% of those vaccinated.

Holcombe said schools were able to slow the spread because of social distancing and face masks. However, as more restrictions ease, the risk is still there for those not vaccinating - which is young people.

Vaccinating a younger population comes with challenges as many parents remain hesitant.

A poll on KALB.com found about four in ten support children getting coronavirus vaccines.

Dr. Holcombe said the risks of not getting a vaccine are too great not to get a dose.

Dr. Holcombe also mentioned that health officials must approach the younger aged group differently. In fact, he said their classmates may lead them to roll up their sleeves.

“The most effective communicators for this are going to be the peer group itself, so it’s going to be parents to parents, or it’s going to be adolescence to adolescence or even children to children,” he said.

Pfizer is currently the only vaccine authorized for people 18 and under. The Louisiana Department of Health requires a parental consent form for those younger than 18 to be vaccinated.

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