Doctors urge parents to vaccinate children ages 5-17 after rise in pediatric COVID-19 cases

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Children have not been spared from the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases, as health officials continue to stress the importance of getting vaccinated.

"What we're really worried about, what I want to do is keep kids out of the hospital, and keep kids from getting very sick, ending to be on a ventilator. And we do see that in the hospital, and it almost always happens in unvaccinated patients who are eligible for vaccination," said Dr. Zach Willis, a pediatric infectious disease physician with UNC's School of Medicine.

According to NCDHHS, during the week beginning Dec.19, there were 6,451 new pediatric cases. The following week, that number more than doubled, to 14,416 new pediatric cases. The rise is now being reflected in hospital admissions; at the beginning of December, pediatric COVID patients accounted for 1% of admissions, now it's 3%.

"Everybody thinks it's not going to happen to them until it does," said Willis.

Willis also noted that children who are immunosuppressed are at increased risk.

Earlier this week, the CDC authorized a booster dose for 12-15-year-old, while recommending children ages 5-11 who are moderately or severely immunocompromised receive a booster shot 28 days after their second shot. Currently, only the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for kids in these age groups.

In another move, the CDC authorized moving up the waiting period from six months to five months for a booster shot for the Pfizer vaccine; Friday, the FDA voted to do the same for the Moderna vaccine, which the CDC backed later in the day.

Friday, Wake County vaccination sites began offering booster doses for children 12-15-years-old. A county spokesperson told ABC 11 that they had about 70 booster appointments lined up for children 12-17-years old, and thirty more appointments for kids in that age group to get their first shot.

"He just started college yesterday. So, it's important for me if he's going to be on-campus. They're remote right now for the first couple weeks but we have had some close family members with COVID," said Jennifer Baer, whose 17-year-old son got his first shot Friday.

"As soon as they started saying that they could get vaccinated, I said okay I should go ahead and do it," added Yesenia Andrade, who received her booster dose, while her two young children each received their second shots.

Willis stressed that it's not too late to begin the vaccination process.

"That booster shot really provides a lot more protection against omicron variant. It makes it a lot less likely you're going to catch it and spread it. It's also important to recognize that it's not just about boosters. Only 47% of adolescents in North Carolina between the ages of 12-17 have gotten any vaccine at all. So, any vaccine is going to provide protection," said Willis.

Durham County vaccination sites plan on offering booster doses for kids 12-15-years- old beginning on Monday.

In a statement, Duke Health echoed Willis's urge to increase vaccinations.

"As COVID cases continue to escalate throughout the community, the number of children who are infected has increased. With eight children hospitalized today at Duke University Hospital, the risk of severe disease among children remains a significant concern. The best way to avoid severe COVID is to be vaccinated, and we urge all parents to seek vaccinations immediately for their children ages 5-17 if they have not already done so. Children ages 12-17 are also eligible for boosters five months after completing their first two doses, which have proven to be both safe and highly effective in protecting people from severe infections and hospitalizations."
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