Preventable COVID Deaths in Adolescents

Two ChildrenA new study this week in the New England Journal of Medicine brought home a basic fact. Severe illness and deaths from COVID in adolescents are almost entirely preventable. This is especially true for youth with conditions – like obesity – that would otherwise put them at risk. In a case-control study of 1,222 adolescents, Samantha Olson and colleagues found that the Pfizer vaccine was 94 percent effective in preventing hospitalization. For keeping teens out of the ICU, it was 98 percent effective.

Of the teens in this study, seven died. All seven were unvaccinated, so the vaccine was 100 percent effective in preventing death.

Senseless Deaths

These deaths are utterly senseless. Right now hospitalizations of children and adolescents with COVID-19 are setting new records. New hospital admissions for children under 18 are approaching a thousand daily. They’re increasing 80 percent weekly in the most recent data. Deaths are relatively rare for kids, but as of yesterday, 1,099 children under 18 have died from COVID.

It’s true enough that these numbers pale in comparison to the 850,000 people who have died in total. But COVID deaths in adolescents who can get the vaccine are entirely preventable.

Essential for Kids with Risks

Olson’s study makes it plain how important the vaccine is for kids with a health condition that might make them vulnerable. In fact, 74 percent of these teens with hospital admissions for COVID had at least one such condition – including obesity. And yet, these kids had generally good outcomes if they were vaccinated.

Keeping Everyone Safe

In the end, though, the reason for getting the vaccine for kids is to keep everyone safe. Aaron Carroll explains:

“Over-focusing on encouraging people to vaccinate to protect themselves, which is what every chart comparing curves of hospitalization among the vaccinated and unvaccinated tries to do, misses opportunities to explain that the biggest reason to vaccinate is often to protect others, especially those who cannot protect themselves.”

Even with omicron, vaccination means that people spread less virus for less time. So schools will be safer – both for teachers and kids.

Right now, only 53 percent of adolescents are fully vaccinated for COVID. That’s sharply different from 95 percent vaccination rates typical for most childhood vaccines. We all want to put this behind us and the vaccine is the best tool we have for doing that. It’s time to make full use of it and move ahead.

Click here for the Olson study, here for the companion editorial, and here for more on vaccine protection from COVID and the omicron variant.

Two Children, painting by Oskar Kokoschka / WikiArt

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January 15, 2022