Many South Dakota parents are reluctant to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19

Compared to other Great Plains states, South Dakota has slowly started vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 against the coronavirus.

With childhood vaccines available for almost a month, so far, only one in 20 eligible South Dakota children aged 5 to 11 has received a dose of the vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the state health ministry.

In an analysis of data from the U.S. Census and Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated Nov. 22, South Dakota had the lowest childhood immunization rate of any Great Plains state.

At that time, 3.4% of eligible children in South Dakota aged 5 to 11 had received at least one dose of the two-dose schedule of Pfizer, compared to 14.5% for Minnesota, 9.8% for Nebraska 6.8% for North Dakota and 6.8% for Montana. 6.1% and Wyoming at 3.7%. Rhode Island and Vermont are the highest in the country with 18% of children ages 5 to 11 vaccinated and Texas is the lowest with 1%.

Health officials say the vaccines are safe for children and can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and the development of new variants, while reducing symptoms for those infected.

The CDC reported in October that scientific trials showed the Pfizer vaccine to be about 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children aged 5 to 11, roughly the same rate of protection as adults. . The federal government made approximately 30,000 doses of childhood vaccines available to medical providers in South Dakota in early November. Reports of side effects have been minimal, with arm pain at the injection site being the most common.

Yet many parents in South Dakota remain hesitant as they compare concerns about the vaccine to concerns about the harmful effects of the virus itself.

The main reasons South Dakota parents decide not to vaccinate their children are concerns about side effects, lack of confidence in the government, uncertainty as to whether their children really need and want it. to wait and see if that’s safe, according to QuoteWizard analysis using data from a US Census Bureau survey.

Maxwell Bauer, son of Dr. Elizabeth Bauer, proudly displays his COVID-19 vaccine certificate with his mother present to watch. Photo: Courtesy of Sanford Health

But health officials across the state want parents to know the vaccine is safe, prevents hospitalization and death from the virus, and has been tested and proven safe.

“COVID is here; COVID is real, ”said Dr Kara Bruning, clinical manager for pediatrics at Avera Health. “It definitely goes around our communities and we need to keep our children safe now. “

While South Dakota reached its peak for COVID-19 cases in November 2020, the virus and the new Delta variant remain a major concern for health officials, including positive cases in children. As of the end of November 2021, approximately 9,250 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in children nine years of age and under (approximately 6.6% of all cases), while 19,900 cases have been reported in people aged 9 and under. 10 to 19 years (approximately 14.2% of all cases.) No deaths have been reported in these age groups, although dozens of hospitalizations have been reported.

Outbreaks are still occurring in schools in South Dakota, including at Grandview Elementary School in Rapid City, where 50 confirmed cases among students and staff led to a temporary switch to distance learning in late October.

The vaccines were urgently approved for adults late last year and have been widely available since the spring, but until recently children under 12 were not eligible.

That changed in late October, when the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, FDA, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine for children aged 5 to 11.

The pediatric vaccine has a lower dosage than that used for adults and adolescents, and like the full-dose vaccine, it is given in two doses given three weeks apart.

So far, more than 34,000 children under the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in South Dakota.

The South Dakota Department of Health scorecard shows that as of Nov. 22, 7,156 children aged 5 to 11 had been vaccinated, or about 5 percent of those eligible. This compares to 18,480 young people aged 12 to 15, or 38% of eligible people, being vaccinated and 9,542 young people aged 16 to 17, or 43% of eligible people now vaccinated.

Adults have a higher vaccination rate overall, and the older a person is, the more likely they are to be vaccinated, according to state data. Overall, about 70 percent of South Dakota ages 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data.

Drew Prenger of South Dakota was vaccinated against COVID-19 in November 2021. Photo: Courtesy of Sanford Health

News Watch has heard from over a dozen parents across the state about their decision to have their children vaccinated, and a common theme of parents, whatever their conclusion, was the desire to do what they feel they are. best for their children.

It’s also clear that parents don’t take decisions about their children’s health lightly, and the COVID-19 vaccine has become a passionate and moving topic for some, whether or not they decide to vaccinate.

Katie Martin described a number of factors that led to her and her husband’s decision not to vaccinate their two young sons.

Martin, who moved to Rapid City last fall due to her husband’s work in the US Air Force, weighed the low death rate of children who contract COVID-19 and the likelihood of some natural immunity since her whole family got the virus last winter. In the end, she was very concerned about the novelty of the vaccine.

Her children have received all other pediatric vaccines and they have been vaccinated against the flu this year.

Her husband received his vaccine in February, but for the rest of the family, it is a “wait and see” approach, she said, adding that her pediatrician also had not insisted on. that her children get vaccinated.

“For us, COVID-19 is just not something that affects children enough to risk an unknown vaccine,” Martin said.

Parents Renee and Ben Forred of Sioux Falls plan to vaccinate their three children who are now eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Photo: Courtesy of Renee and Ben Forred

Sioux Falls parents Renee and Ben Forred said they plan to vaccinate their three children who are now eligible. Their reasoning comes, in part, from Ben Forred’s career in biomedical research and his understanding of how clinical trials work and how scientists keep drugs and vaccines safe.

“I can totally understand the reluctance and reluctance of people,” he said. “But when I had friends and family talking to me, I always told them to avoid that advice to ‘go out and do your own research’ when there are people who have dedicated their careers to doing it. Find a doctor Find an expert who can give you advice.

On a more practical level, Renee Forred said the family is just hoping to avoid illness and quarantine. Their whole family has had COVID-19 in the past month, and having children home sick from school while juggling careers, housework and parenting was stressful.

“I think the main thing is that we all want this to be done, and we should do everything we can to protect our families,” she said.

Doctors recognize that many parents have questions and concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine for children, but they also want parents to know that the vaccine is tested and proven safe.

In the days following the approval of the pediatric dosage of the vaccine, more than 200 pediatricians in North Dakota and South Dakota signed a letter strongly encouraging parents to vaccinate their children.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe for children,” the letter said. “This vaccine has undergone rigorous testing and extensive studies to ensure safety and effective protection against COVID-19 infection. “

The letter goes on to say that the vaccine is “very good” at preventing infections, “excellent” at preventing serious infections and “exceptional at preventing deaths from COVID-19”.

“For us, even a child dying from a vaccine-preventable disease such as COVID-19 is one too many,” we read.

Dr Santiago Lopez, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health, was one of the doctors who helped draft the letter. He said he had seen no “red flags” regarding side effects in children who received the vaccine both locally and nationally.

Lopez also noted that more than 2 million children have received at least one dose nationwide, and he hopes that as more families see children getting vaccinated without any problems, they will will feel more confident to vaccinate their children as well.

At Avera Health, Bruning said the medical community must also educate parents about the risks to unvaccinated children.

Kara bruning

In the United States, thousands of children have been hospitalized with the virus, Bruning said, and CDC data shows the hospitalization rate has increased tenfold with the increase in the Delta variant. In addition, children are also at risk of developing a “long covid”, even if they have mild symptoms.

Another risk for children is multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but dangerous disease that occurs in children as a complication of COVID-19.

“These kids are in shock,” Bruning said. “They come to the ICU with heart, kidney and liver problems… some of them are put on ventilators. Some of them have heart problems. If we can prevent it by giving a vaccine, that is certainly the way to go. “

Parents are encouraged to discuss the decision to immunize their children or not with their pediatrician. The state also offers information on vaccines, including facts debunking common myths surrounding the vaccine, on the Department of Health’s website, This website can also direct people to a vaccine supplier near them.

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About Megan Raposa

Megan Raposa is a freelance journalist and entrepreneur in Sioux Falls, SD. She previously worked as a writer for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

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