TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Some Kansas counties are seeing youth vaccination rates for COVID-19 far below the national average, according to state data released this week.
A school pandemic workgroup established by Gov. Laura Kelly received data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment showing that in about a quarter of the state's counties, less than 20% of vaccine-eligible children ages 12 to 17 had received at least one dose as of Sept. 24.
U.S. regulators in May expanded the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12. The national vaccination rate for youth is 57%, according to a presentation by Marci Nielsen, a special advisor to Kelly.
Most of the low-vaccine counties are in western Kansas or other rural areas. By comparison, no Kansas county has less than 20% of its total eligible population fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Johnson, Douglas and Riley counties exceed the national rate for youth vaccinations, Nielsen said.
Decatur County in northwest Kansas reported the lowest rate with 3% of youth receiving a first dose.
Derek Chambers, lead pharmacist at Ward Drug in Oberlin, said the store only offers Moderna's vaccine. He thinks the pharmacy would have wasted doses if it had ordered shots from Pfizer because few people would have taken them. He suggests that parents who want vaccines for their children go to McCook, Nebraska, a 30-minute drive, or Colby, Kansas, a 50-minute drive.
Parents have commented on social media that they won't get their kids vaccinated because they value free choice or because they think kids are less likely to become severely ill, Chambers said.
Decatur County's health department doesn't have Pfizer's vaccine either, said department administrator Bobbi Koerperich.
The health department and school district don't try to persuade people to get their children vaccinated.
“We'd have parents down our throats like you would not believe,” said Joel Applegate, USD 294 Oberlin school superintendent.
Wallace County reported 14% of 12- to 17-year-olds have received a first dose of vaccine. Aften Gardner, administrator of the county health department in Sharon Springs, said adult vaccine hesitancy also has been pervasive. In June, the health department held a well-publicized walk-in clinic for teenagers to receive shots and only three showed up, including one of her own children.
Nationally, weekly infection rates among U.S. children in September topped 250,000, surpassing the wintertime peak, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association.
Among children 12 and older, the weekly hospitalization rate in July was 10 times higher for the unvaccinated than those who have had the shots, CDC data show.
Matt Lara, a spokesman with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said in a statement that the department is working with local health departments and doctors to promote vaccinations.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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