Children will likely pay the price for adults in the US not getting vaccinated at high enough rates to slow or stop the spread of Covid-19, which has been surging in most states, a vaccine expert said.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday that if vaccination rates among adults and kids 12 and older continue to lag amid increased spread of the virus, the youngest members of the population will be most affected.
“Transmission will continue to accelerate … and the ones who will also pay the price, in addition to the unvaccinated adolescents, are the little kids who depend on the adults and adolescents to get vaccinated in order to slow or halt transmission.”
In 46 states, the rates of new cases this past week are at least 10% higher than the rates of new cases the previous week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In Los Angeles County, the country’s most populous, there has been a 500% increase in cases over the past month, according to the county’s latest health data.
As cases increase, only 48.1% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And though many may brush off the risk of low vaccination rates to children, citing their low Covid-19 mortality rates, Hotez said they are still at risk for serious complications.
Many more adolescents could become hospitalized, Hotez said, adding up to 30% of children infected will develop long-haul covid.
Scientists are now learning about neurological consequences to long-haul covid, Hotez added. Some studies have shown impacts on the brain of people who have been infected with the virus. One study in April found 34% of Covid-19 survivors received a diagnosis for a neurological or psychological condition within six months of their infection.
“What you’re doing is your condemning a whole generation of adolescents to neurologic injury totally unnecessarily,” Hotez said. “It’s just absolutely heartbreaking and beyond frustrating for vaccine scientists like myself to see this happen.”
Debate over vaccine mandates
With experts stressing the importance in vaccinating a majority of Americans against the virus, some officials are debating whether to mandate vaccinations at the local level.
Some schools and employers have already implemented measures requiring students and employees to be vaccinated before returning.
Last month, Morgan Stanley announced unvaccinated employees, guests and clients would be banned from its New York headquarters. In April, Houston Methodist, a network of eight hospitals, said it would require all of its employees to get vaccinated. Of the 26,000 employees, 153 resigned or were fired as a result of refusing the vaccine.
But many states are moving to block such requirements.
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A CNN analysis found that at least seven states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah — have enacted legislation this year that would restrict public schools from requiring either coronavirus vaccinations or documentation of vaccination status.
Such legislation is terrifying for the nation’s 48 million Americans under the age of 12, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius told CNN’s Erin Burnett Tuesday.
Currently, vaccines are only available in the US to people 12 and older.
“If we start with a lens on the children and wanting children to get back to school, which is what we all say is the priority, then we have to get more serious about employers and schools and universities stepping up and saying ‘it’s great if you don’t want to be vaccinated. But if you don’t, you really can’t have access to places that will put you in contact with folks who can’t get vaccinated,'” Sebelius said.
One thing the federal government can do to support vaccine mandates is expedite the full authorization of the available vaccines, she said.
“Getting full approval — getting out of the emergency use authorization and into full approval — is something that will clear up any legal questions that private employers may have,” Sebelius said.
What surges could mean for the school year
Most officials and health experts have stressed the importance of students being able to safely return to school in the new academic year, but vaccine hesitancy could impact how districts move forward.
Only a quarter of Americans age 12 to 15 are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data published Tuesday by the CDC, making them the age group with the lowest rate of vaccination.
California’s K-12 schools were directed Monday to turn away students from campuses for refusing to wear face coverings in class, but the rules were revised just hours later to give schools more leeway in implementing protocol.
Despite the initial guidance stating, “Schools must exclude students from campus if they are not exempt from wearing a face covering under [California Department of Public Health] guidelines and refuse to wear one provided by the school,” spokesman for Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, Alex Stack, insists the intent was not to turn away students.
“The way [the guidance] was written didn’t accurately reflect the intent, so it was rewritten,” Stack told CNN, acknowledging the statement came across as “banning kids.” “It’s important to get this right so parents and students know what to expect going in to school year.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city’s guidance could change as the school year gets closer, but for now families should assume masks will still be worn in schools come September.
“We’ve been constantly working with the CDC, but we also in this case have been very careful given everything the city has been through … for now, we’re sticking with the idea that, you know, wearing the masks is the smart thing to do in schools,” De Blasio said.
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CNN’s Alexandra Meeks, Lauren Mascarenhas, Deidre McPhillips, Laura Ly, Cheri Mossburg & Joe Sutton contributed to this report.
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