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Missouri Already Hit A Wall Getting Teens COVID-19 Vaccinations

Tony Kirkwood, 15, grips his mother's hand Thursday at Kauffman School just before getting his COVID-19 inoculation from Truman Medical Centers/University Health RN Raquel Garcia.
Tony Kirkwood, 15, grips his mother's hand Thursday at Kauffman School just before getting his COVID-19 inoculation from Truman Medical Centers/University Health RN Raquel Garcia.

Fifteen-year-old Tony Kirkwood gripped his mother’s hand tightly while he received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Ewing Marion Kauffman School on Thursday.

His mother, Patricia Banks, brought Kirkwood for his vaccination because his school requires them when in-person classes return this fall. But after her son got his jab, she rolled up her sleeve and got one too.

“I wanted more information. I wanted to see what they were offering,” Banks said of making up her mind to get their vaccines. “I prayed about it. I got more information about it, basically.”

Banks and her son are far from the only ones still hesitant about getting their shot.

The Missouri Hospital Association found in a new report that just 13% of kids aged 12 to 15 have been vaccinated for COVID-19 since the Pfizer vaccine was approved for that age group last month.

And the number of teens getting their shot is falling, from a peak of more than 5,000 a day to around 700 a day now.

“I think we're seeing those numbers drop off in the same way that we saw a lot of the adult numbers drop off — maybe a little bit more quickly,” says Dave Dillon, a spokesperson for the Missouri Hospital Association

Dillon said Missouri saw a large influx of motivated parents who scheduled their children for their shots early on. Since then, though, several factors have contributed to a drop-off in vaccination rates — notably, a lack of urgency.

“There have historically been fewer cases among young individuals,” Dillon says.

In some cases, parents say they don’t feel informed enough about the long-term effects of the vaccine in children. Logistics like school and other activities might also make it harder to schedule a shot.

As a result, many parents adopted a “wait-and-see” attitude towards vaccinations — even as shots become more widely available.

Hayat Abdullahi, senior director of community health strategies and innovations at Truman Medical Centers/University Health, says that Missourians can still encounter language and cultural barriers, a lack of internet access, and misinformation that might dissuade them from getting the vaccine for themselves or their children.

“Vaccination rates in general are dropping,” Abdullahi said. “People are really scared. Number one, they need that education, and number two, they need access.”

Abdullahi said that younger kids especially might be hesitant because of a fear of needles and pain associated with the shot.

No vaccines are currently approved by the FDA for kids below the age of 12, although multiple vaccine manufacturers are currently studying the effectiveness of their vaccines in young children.

Still, Dillon is not overly concerned about the drop in teenage vaccinations. At this point, 52% of Missouri residents 18 years or older, and 42% of all residents, have gotten partially or fully vaccinated.

To reach "herd immunity," Dillon says, Missouri needs to vaccinate at least 65% of its population. He feels comfortable the state is well on its way to reach that number.

For those still reluctant to get their shot, Dillon says the proof is in the pudding.

“Our hospitalization numbers are down significantly. The number of infections are down significantly,” Dillon says. “So, you know, as those things continue to provide evidence, hopefully it will make a case to the hesitant.”

What finally convinced Banks to visit the school clinic was the encouragement of her sister, who works in a nursing home. And now that her shot is safely over with, Banks hopes her positive experience will help more relatives overcome their doubts.

“So if I can be that person that shows them that this is OK, then maybe the rest of the family members — my husband included — would get one,” Banks says.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3