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Health experts encouraging eligible Idaho teens to get a COVID-19 vaccine

With new eligibility for those 12-15 announced in May, experts hope more teens get a vaccine to cut down on community spread and to promote a normal school year.

BOISE, Idaho — Thousands of Idahoans are now at least partially vaccinated, close to 50% of Idahoans 18 and over have had at least one dose. Public health experts say they wish vaccination rates were higher, but they are optimistic about those numbers continuing to increase. One area of concern across the country is COVID rates among children under 12 who can’t get the vaccine yet.

“Certainly, there are some other states that either have reported that or are reporting that now,” said Dr. David Pate, retired CEO of the St. Luke’s Health System and a member of the governor’s coronavirus task force.

Dr. Pate says Idaho is not a place currently seeing an issue with adolescent cases. Pate says some recent good news came back in May when Pfizer got emergency clearance for use of their vaccine in a new age group, 12 to 16. About 13% of those aged 12 to 15 in Idaho have had at least one vaccine dose and 24% of those 16 to 17 years old.  

Still though, there is no vaccine for Idahoans younger than 12, leading to questions about COVID infections with kids. Experts point out their body will likely handle the virus OK but there is another issue to keep in mind.

“It is certainly unusual for a child to become very ill but the concern is those children in taking the virus home to their parents who may be more middle aged and may have some underlying medical conditions and may not be vaccinated because they are thinking, oh well I’m not high risk I don’t need to get vaccinated, but now the child is bringing the virus home,” Pate said.

So, what do the infection numbers look like for younger Idahoans unable to get a vaccine? A graph shows cases among 0-4 year-olds since early last year. Cases spike toward the end of 2020 but begin to decrease steadily through this year. The Department of Health and Welfare reports that the incidence rate for ages 0-4 over the last few weeks is 16.5 cases per 100,000 population, while the infection rate has plateaued in recent weeks in that age range. 

It’s a very similar story for Idahoans aged 5-12, cases are at about 19 per 100,000 population with a mostly downward trend over the last 10 weeks. With that said, Health and Welfare reports despite no vaccine is ready yet, they are not seeing an increase in COVID cases for those younger than 12.

“Generally, it’s been looking pretty favorable in Idaho,” said Dr. Laura McGeorge, St. Luke's System Service Line Medical Director for Primary and Specialty Care.

Dr. McGeorge says it’s very important for those recently eligible teens and tweens to get a vaccine.

“For a child or adolescent, the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 is more than double the risk of hospitalization from influenza. Again, most kids are going to have a very mild case if they have symptoms at all but again, we don’t want them to spread it to other people that may be at more risk,” McGeorge said.

One demographic of concern is Idaho teenagers. Cases among teens, 13-17 year-olds, have shown a downward trend of cases in recent weeks, but still, teenagers have a higher incidence rate than younger kids at 37 cases per 100,000 population. It’s important to note many in this age group only became eligible to get a vaccine about a month ago, but experts say it’s important to get that group vaccinated to help cutdown on community transmission and help push towards a more normal school year beginning in the fall.

“Before you know it, we will be getting back into the mode of back to school and so definitely don’t procrastinate,” McGeorge said.

What about hospitalizations among younger Idahoans? In the St. Luke’s system, COVID hospitalizations at St. Luke’s Children’s has remained consistent since January, with about 5 hospitalizations a month. St Luke’s reports more and more vaccines among teens with over 4,000 unique patients between 12 and 17 getting a vaccine in recent weeks. Dr. McGeorge says, like other age groups, there was strong interest in getting a vaccine when the new group recently became eligible. Experts say high vaccine rates among teens will likely lead to a more normal return to school.

“Everybody wants to get back toward normal in school, this is our way to do it. Let’s get vaccinated so we can have a more school year next year,” Pate said.

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