COVID vaccinations for Louisiana kids are off to a slow start. Could summer camps help? | Coronavirus


When kids ages 12 to 17 were allowed to receive the Pfizer vaccine in mid-May, there was hope they might give Louisiana a much-needed boost in its vaccination rate. But parents all over the state have been slow to get vaccines for their children, with just a handful of children receiving the vaccine in some parishes.

At 36%, the state’s overall vaccination rate is far lower than the national average of 51% of people who have received at least one shot. But adolescents in the state lag even farther behind. Just 8% of kids ages 12 to 17 have received a shot in Louisiana compared to 25% nationally. Louisiana ranks fourth-to-last, behind only Mississippi, Alabama and Idaho.

Experts attribute low rates among kids to the same factors that have slowed the adult effort. The same states at the bottom of the adult effort are also at the bottom for children’s COVID-19 vaccinations.

“I suspect a pretty high correlation between adults who are vaccinated getting kids vaccinated,” said Dr. Leron Finger, a pediatric critical care physician at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. “Likewise, adults who aren’t vaccinated are almost certainly not vaccinating their kids.”

The U.S. hit a milestone in its vaccination push Tuesday with over 50% of adults now fully vaccinated, according to the White House. But as th…

In the first slow week that the two-dose Pfizer vaccine opened to kids 12 and up, nearly 7,000 got their first shot. By the next week, that dropped to 6,171. Last week, the number was 4,731. 

A total of 30,873 children in the state have received at least one shot, about 3.8% of the nearly 800,000 school-age children in the state.

The most shots have been administered in the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metro areas. About 5,000 kids have gotten a shot in Orleans Parish and about 4,130 in East Baton Rouge Parish. 

There are some parishes where only a handful of children have been vaccinated. In Cameron, West Carroll and Tensas Parishes, fewer than five children have received a shot.

Pediatricians did not expect a stampede of children the same way adults sought out the vaccine when they were newly eligible.

“That’s just not how this age group functions in the best of times,” said Finger. “You overlay the pandemic and social isolation, there is just no urgency to it for this age group. They will get it done in a typical lackadaisical teenage fashion.”

But if the slow pace continues, it could raise problems for back to school — especially if it becomes mandated like many other childhood vaccines.

In New Orleans, schools and health officials are attempting to bolster the numbers by catching kids in summer camps in hopes for a normal school year in the fall.

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“We’re trying to get ahead of it and be on the front end so if it should become mandated for kids, we have as many as possible,” said Chantell Reed, deputy director of the New Orleans Health Department.

A partnership between NOLA Public Schools, CORE, CrescentCare, DePaul Community Health Centers, and Ochsner Health has enrolled 25 summer programs and is working to enroll another seven, said Tiffany Delcour, chief operations officer of NOLA Public Schools, which oversees 78 charter schools in New Orleans.

The mobile approach is something they learned was key when vaccinating teachers. Far more teachers got the vaccine when it was offered at school than through appointments they made on their own, Delcour said. 

“Even if they definitely wanted it and were not hesitant, we were more successful when we brought it to the school,” said Delcour. “That was a very quick lesson learned. This program will only be successful if you bring it to where people are.”

The summer camp partnership vaccinated 140 kids in its first week. And there are signs that interest is increasing. After vaccinating 33 kids the first two days, over 100 got a shot on Friday.

The city and schools are looking at incentives to encourage kids and parents such as free admission to the Audubon Zoo, snacks, vouchers for pizza and a free school uniform.

The best incentive may be the fact that vaccinated students will not have to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact of a coronavirus case, Delcour pointed out.

“We hope that will be an interesting incentive for parents,” said Delcour. “We want all students to be in school and learning and safe, and we think vaccines are key to that. We want to make sure we’re using this summer to not lose any time.”

Kids typically do well with COVID, but not always. The CDC released a report Thursday analyzing an increase in adolescent hospitalizations during spring 2021. In 14 states, 204 children ages 12 to 17 required hospitalization from January to March 2021. One-third of them were moved to the intensive care unit. While none died, 5% were put on ventilators.

“I am deeply concerned by the numbers of hospitalized adolescents and saddened to see the number of adolescents who required treatment in intensive care units or mechanical ventilation,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky in a statement Friday. “Much of this suffering can be prevented.”

In Louisiana, eight children have died of COVID-19, according to the Louisiana Department of Health. There have been 61,809 cases among children, making up about 15.5% of all COVID cases in the state.

The state health department has encouraged pediatrician offices to sign up to be vaccine providers in recent weeks and the CDC has said kids can get the COVID vaccine alongside other childhood vaccinations. Since kids became eligible, 20 pediatrician offices have expressed interested in carrying the vaccine, joining a total of 243 family clinics with availability, LDH said.

BOGALUSA — Whenever Wendy Perrette saw the big white trailer outside her elementary school, she knew it was going to be a good day.

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Emily Woodruff covers public health for The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate as a Report For America corps member. 

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