Doctors and medical experts have been making the case for weeks for getting children vaccinated: It keeps them from getting seriously sick, keeps them in school and activities and protects family members.
The most recent data about Covid cases suggests the initiative is coming just in time.
The rise in Covid-19 caseloads in Erie County is driven in large part by school-age children. According to data released this week by the county Health Department, 690 of the 2,690 newly confirmed Covid-19 cases were found in people ages 18 and under.
That's 25.6% of the total, and it's an increase of 180 cases among county children in the space of a week.
According to the most recent report, the age groups with the highest positivity rates were school-aged children: 7.1% for 5- to 10-year-olds; 11% for 11- to 13-year-olds; and, 8.4% for 14- to 17-year-olds.
“There are enough pediatric cases in the community where it’s hard to argue that kids don’t spread it," said Dr. Kevin Shiley, an infectious disease specialist at Catholic Health, who said getting more youth vaccinated will "take another chunk out of the potential transmission of cases."
Studies have shown reduction in Covid-19 cases and severe illness in those populations with high vaccination rates, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The shots for younger children seem to be popular. About 900,000 children around the country rolled up their sleeves for their first shot in the first week after it became available to them Nov. 3, according to the White House.
Appointments were snapped up within 24 hours for Erie County Health Department’s first vaccine clinic for the children last Saturday. More clinics are scheduled. Vaccines also are available at pediatricians’ offices and pharmacies.
The first few days of the vaccination program for 5- to 11-year-olds showed 2.1% of that age group in Erie County received its first dose, a figure that is sure to rise.
“What we find is that parents are accepting this quite well, recognizing that it’s probably the best and most comprehensively tested vaccine ever given to children. It’s a dose reduction of a vaccine that’s been given to over a billion people," said Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo.
He also is the president of UBMD Pediatrics and practices in Oishei Children's Hospital.
Erie County Health Department spokeswoman Kara Kane said the data for students and school staff for the last two weeks are incomplete, but the material on hand showed a 32% increase in cases among children and staff between Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.
The rising share of the overall caseload among children didn't shock Lipschultz.
“Children are the highest percentage of people unvaccinated, and Delta is more contagious, so it’s not a surprise that we’re seeing more children infected," he said. "Children in general are less affected than adults but it’s still a serious disease. We’ve had cases in our intensive care unit of hospitalized children. Although most will be fine and do not need hospitalization, they can be harmed. It can spread to others. Long Covid can be a continuing problem."
"It does appear that the younger you are, the less the risk of severe infection. There is a low level of side effects reported with the vaccine," said Dr. Thomas Madejski, former president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. “I think there’s a utility to being vaccinated, but that should be an individual decision between the parent and their pediatrician, just as with all vaccines."
He also said he sees more children becoming ill from viruses other than Covid, such as rhinoviruses, parainfluenza and respiratory syncytial virus, which cause cold-like symptoms.
That's because children's bodies lost some of their natural defenses during what he called "the period of confinement from March 2020 to August 2021."
Without having a lot of direct skin-to-skin, face-to-face contact," Lipschultz said, "a lot of children were not as exposed to viruses as they normally would be, so their resistance to viral infection has shifted."
Increasing the vaccination rate in children could be key to reducing Covid-19 restrictions in school.
"If a certain percentage of parents are refusing to get the children vaccinated, you're going to have to still have these restrictions in place to protect children, including those who cannot get vaccinated for potentially a health reason. So we're asking all parents to vaccinate their children now if they're over the age of 5," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said last week.
News Staff Reporter Barbara O'Brien contributed to this article.