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Just over a third of Nebraska 12- to 17-year-olds have gotten COVID vaccine
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Just over a third of Nebraska 12- to 17-year-olds have gotten COVID vaccine

Check out how Nebraska compares with other states on COVID vaccinations of youths age 12-17.

With the start of classes roughly a month away for most Nebraska school districts, barely more than a third of the state’s 12- to 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

In all, 54,642 of the approximately 161,000 Nebraskans in that age bracket have received at least one shot. That 34% one-shot rate trails the 38.2% national rate and places Nebraska 27th among the states, according to a World-Herald analysis of federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Iowa’s 31.6% vaccination rate for that age group is even lower, ranking that state 32nd. Leading the nation, as it does in adult vaccination, is Vermont, with nearly 68% of 12- to 17-year-olds who have had one shot.

The rankings are similar when it comes to the percentage of Nebraska and Iowa 12- to 17-year-olds who are fully vaccinated. Some 27.7% of Nebraskans in that age group have received two doses, ranking the state 26th. Iowa is at No. 29 on that list, with 26.3% of youths fully vaccinated.

Locally, Douglas County appears to be ahead of that mark among 16- to 19-year-olds, with 49.6% fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.

Those breakdowns come as school officials weigh conditions for the start of the school year. So far, school officials have received conflicting information about at least one piece of that equation: namely, whether students should quarantine after contact with someone who has tested positive.

Under new guidance from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, a student who had contact would not have to quarantine.

The CDC, however, is recommending quarantining for unvaccinated students who have had close contact. Vaccinated people who are showing no symptoms are not required to quarantine. The agency also said vaccinated teachers and students don’t need to wear masks inside school buildings, a relaxation of previous guidelines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, meanwhile, issued its own guidance Monday, including a recommendation that all students older than 2 years old and all school staff wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. The masking recommendation comes as part of a layered approach that also encourages vaccination and includes building ventilation, testing, quarantining and cleaning.

Lindsay Huse, the new director of the Douglas County Health Department, said Wednesday that health officials are speaking with local school district superintendents once or twice a week as they work to determine the best approach for the coming school year.

The guidance will include a mix of state and CDC recommendations, she said, as well as what meets local needs and has worked locally in the past. Douglas County officials also are coordinating with the Sarpy/Cass and Three Rivers Health Departments, since some school districts cross county lines. Final guidance should be available this week.

In addition, she said, local health directors are speaking with health directors across the state about how to integrate the different recommendations.

However, the lead-up to school openings comes as cases in the state, while still far below last fall’s peak, are on the rise and as the more-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has gained ground.

Huse said delta now is the dominant strain seen in the county. Federal officials said earlier this week that the variant now accounts for 83% of known COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

For now, one priority for health and school officials will be to continue to encourage vaccination for eligible students. The two-dose Pfizer vaccine is approved for people ages 12 and older.

Huse said the vaccine will be offered at the Omaha Public Schools’ fall registration events at middle and high schools, as well as at those hosted by Metropolitan Community College and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The health department, working with various partners, previously has held vaccination events at schools, Boys & Girls Clubs and the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.

Shots also are available through local health systems, several private pediatric practices, Charles Drew Health Center and OneWorld Community Health Centers as well as health department events, which are updated on its website.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to reach a large percentage of the unvaccinated population through those events, as well,” Huse said of the school-based efforts.

Dr. Sharon Stoolman, a pediatric hospital physician with Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, said in an interview that the health system will try to post health professionals at those events to answer questions from parents.

“We recognize parents still have questions they need answers to,” said Stoolman, who participated in a Facebook question-and-answer session on the pediatrics academy’s masking recommendation that the hospital held Tuesday.

Stoolman said parents tend to worry whenever considering medical interventions for their kids because the children have long lives ahead of them. One long-term concern parents have raised is how the vaccines might affect kids’ fertility. The answer, she said, is that they won’t.

The messenger RNA used to train the body to respond to the coronavirus does not integrate into a vaccinated person’s genetic material.

In addition, the risk posed to kids by COVID-19 outweighs the possibility of very rare side effects from the vaccine, Stoolman said. Rare cases of heart inflammation in youths have been short-lived and treatable.

And, while young people are less likely than older people to suffer serious illness from COVID, she said, some children do become very ill and some suffer long-term effects, even from mild cases.

A young person who is going to school and participating in sports, Stoolman said, is more likely to get COVID-19 than to suffer a vaccine side effect.

Another reassuring sign should be the time researchers are taking to study vaccines in 6- to 11-year-olds, a process that’s still underway. If researchers were rushing the science, she said, shots for that group already might be available.

The Nebraska State Education Association, in a statement Wednesday, said vaccinations for those 12 and older are key to keeping schools open and students and staff safe.

“As a teacher and a grandmother, I ... want to note that young children not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations rely on older vaccinated people for protection from the virus,” said Jenni Benson, association president.

Most local school districts, however, have not weighed in on how they will handle masking. An exception is the Papillion-La Vista Community Schools, which has said masks will be optional at all grade levels.

Dr. Drea Jones, a member of the Douglas County Board of Health, said Wednesday that the CDC considers people of all ages in making its recommendations. Because children under 12 can’t yet be vaccinated, she urged strong consideration of universal masking for kids in schools.

Stoolman said she will be sending her elementary and high school-age students to school in masks, as the pediatrics academy recommends. She said she hopes parents will be allowed to make their own choices.

“We as parents have to take that on for our families and say, ‘How do we keep our families safe?’” she said.

World-Herald staff writer Joe Dejka contributed to this report.


Omaha World-Herald: Live Well

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Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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