Compared to other states in the Great Plains, South Dakota is slow to get children aged 5-11 vaccinated against the coronavirus.
With childhood vaccines available for nearly a month, only about one in 20 eligible children aged 5-11 in South Dakota has so far received a dose of the vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the Department of Health.
In an analysis of data from the U.S. Census and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated Nov. 22, South Dakota had the lowest childhood vaccination coverage of any Great Plains state.
At that time, 3.4% of eligible children ages 5-11 in South Dakota had received at least one dose of the Pfizer two-dose vaccine schedule, compared to Minnesota 14.5%, Nebraska 9.8 %, North Dakota 6.8%, Montana 6.1% and Wyoming at 3.7%. Rhode Island and Vermont are the highest in the nation with 18% of children ages 5-11 being vaccinated and Texas is the lowest at 1%.
Health officials say the vaccines are safe for children and could help stop the spread of COVID-19 and the development of new variants, while also reducing symptoms for those infected.
The CDC reported in October that scientific studies showed that the Pfizer vaccine was about 91% effective at preventing COVID-19 in children ages 5-11, about the same rate of protection as adults. The federal government made about 30,000 pediatric vaccine doses available to medical providers in South Dakota in early November. Reports of adverse events were minimal, with a sore arm at the injection site being the most common.
Still, many parents in South Dakota remain hesitant as they weigh concerns about the vaccine against concerns about the harmful effects of the virus itself.
The top reasons parents in South Dakota decide not to vaccinate their children are concerns about side effects, lack of trust in the government, uncertainty about whether their children need it at all, and a desire to wait and see if it’s proven safe, according to one QuoteWizard analysis using data from a US Census Bureau survey.
But health officials across the state want parents to know that the vaccine is safe, that it will prevent hospitalization and death from the virus, and that it has been tested and proven to be safe.
“COVID is here; COVID is real,” said Dr. Kara Bruning, clinical chief of pediatrics at Avera Health. “It’s definitely going through our communities, and we need to keep our children safe now.”
While South Dakota peaked for COVID-19 cases in November 2020, the virus and its newer Delta variant remain a major concern for health officials, including positive cases in children. At the end of November 2021, approximately 9,250 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in children aged nine years and younger (approximately 6.6% of all cases), while 19,900 cases had been reported in people aged 10-19 (approximately 14.2% of all cases). cases). ) No deaths have been reported in those age groups, although dozens of hospitalizations have been reported.
Outbreaks continue to occur in schools in South Dakota, including Grandview Elementary School in Rapid City, where 50 confirmed cases among students and staff led to a temporary shift to distance learning in late October.
Vaccines were approved for adults in emergency situations late last year and have been widely available since the spring, but until recently, children under 12 were ineligible.
That changed in late October, when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration approved FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
The pediatric vaccine has a lower dosage than adults and teens, and like the full-dose vaccine, it is given as two doses three weeks apart.
To date, more than 34,000 children under the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in South Dakota.
The South Dakota health department dashboard shows that as of Nov. 22, 7,156 children ages 5-11 had been vaccinated, about 5% of those eligible. That compares with 18,480 youths aged 12-15, or 38% of those eligible, who are vaccinated, and 9,542 youths, aged 16-17, or 43% of those eligible are now vaccinated.
Adults generally have higher vaccination rates, and the older a person gets, the more likely they are to be vaccinated, according to state data. According to state data, about 70 percent of South Dakotans ages 12 and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
News Watch heard from more than a dozen parents across the state about their decision to vaccinate or not have their children, and a common theme from parents, regardless of their conclusion, was the desire to do what they think is best. for their children.
It is also clear that parents do not make decisions about the health of their children lightly, and the COVID-19 vaccine has become a heated and emotional topic for some, whether they decide to vaccinate or not.
Katie Martin described a number of factors that played into her and her husband’s decision not to vaccinate their two young sons.
Martin, who moved to Rapid City last fall because of her husband’s job in the U.S. Air Force, weighed the low death rate for children contracting COVID-19 and the likelihood of natural immunity as her entire family had the virus last winter. In the end, she was very concerned about the novelty of the vaccine.
Her children have had all the other pediatric vaccines and they have gotten flu shots this year.
Her husband got his vaccine in February, but for the rest of the family it’s a wait and see approach, she said, adding that her pediatrician also didn’t insist her children get the shot.
“For us, COVID-19 is just not something that affects children enough to risk an unknown vaccine,” Martin said.
Sioux Falls parents Renee and Ben Forred said they plan to vaccinate their three children, who are now eligible. Their reasoning stems in part from Ben Forred’s career in biomedical research and his understanding of how clinical trials work and the way scientists ensure the safety of drugs and vaccines.
“I can fully understand people’s reluctance and hesitation,” he said. “But when I’ve had friends and family talk to me, I’ve always told them to avoid that ‘get out and do your own research’ advice when there are people out there who have dedicated their careers to this. Seek a doctor. Find an expert who can give you his or her input.”
From a more practical standpoint, Renee Forred said the family only hopes to avoid even more illness and quarantine. Their entire family had COVID-19 for the past month and it was stressful leaving kids home sick from school while also juggling careers, domestic care and parenting duties.
“I think the most important thing is that we all want this to happen, and we need to do everything we can to protect our families,” she said.
Doctors recognize that many parents have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, but they also want parents to know that the vaccine has been tested and found to be safe.
In the days after the vaccine’s pediatric dosage was approved, more than 200 pediatricians in both North Dakota and South Dakota signed a letter strongly encouraging parents to vaccinate their children.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for children,” the letter reads. “This vaccine has undergone rigorous testing and in-depth studies to ensure safety and effective protection against COVID-19 infection.”
The letter further states that the vaccine is “excellent” at preventing infections, “excellent” at preventing serious infections and “excellent at preventing deaths from COVID-19.”
“For us, even one child dying from a vaccine-preventable disease such as COVID-19 is one too many,” it reads.
dr. Santiago Lopez, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health, was one of the doctors who helped write the letter. He said he had seen no “red flags” regarding side effects in children who received the vaccine, both on a local and national scale.
Lopez also noted that more than 2 million children nationally have received at least one dose, and he hopes that as more families see children vaccinated without problems, they will feel more confident in vaccinating their children.
At Avera Health, Bruning said the medical community should also educate parents about the risks to children who have not been vaccinated.
In the U.S., thousands of children have been hospitalized with the virus, Bruning said, and CDC data shows hospitalizations have increased tenfold with the emergence of the Delta variant. In addition, children are also at risk of developing “long-term covid” even if they have mild symptoms.
Another risk for children is multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but dangerous disease that develops in children as a complication of COVID-19.
“These kids are going into shock,” Bruning said. “They come to the ICU with heart, kidney, and liver problems…some of them get a ventilator. Some of them have heart problems. If we can prevent it by giving a vaccine, that is certainly the right way to go.”
Parents are urged to discuss the decision whether or not to vaccinate their children with their pediatrician. The state also provides information about vaccines, including facts that debunk common myths surrounding the vaccine, on the health department’s website, covid.sd.gov. That website can also refer people to a vaccine provider near them.