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Wyoming youth vaccination rates lag behind nation
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Wyoming youth vaccination rates lag behind nation

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Vaccine Clinic

Senior Pharmacy Technician Dallas Messenger draws a syringe of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at the Community Health Center of Central Wyoming in April in Casper. Wyoming has one of the nation's lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates among children. 

Wyoming youth have at least one thing in common with their parents; they are among the least vaccinated groups in the nation.

According to a New York Times data analysis, Wyoming has the nation’s fifth-lowest youth COVID-19 vaccination rate. Just 12% of residents 12-17 years old here have received one shot. Just over 4% are fully vaccinated, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

The shots are more limited for youth. Pfizer’s is the only vaccine approved for those under 18 years old, and not every Wyoming county has the infrastructure to store the vaccines, which require a specialty freezer to maintain ultra-low temperatures.

Still, most of the country vastly outpaces the Equality State when it comes to getting shots in the arms of both children and adults.

The national leader is Vermont, which has given 58% of residents between 15 and 17 years old at least one vaccine dose. About 27% of residents in that age group nationwide have received at least one shot.

Pfizer Inc. said on Tuesday it will begin testing its COVID-19 vaccine in a bigger group of children under age 12 after selecting a lower dosage for the shot than in an earlier stage of the trial. This report produced by Jillian Kitchener.

Wyoming Department of Health spokesperson Kim Deti called the state’s low vaccination rate “disappointing.”

“While we know certain individuals have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 infections, anyone of any age can get ill and can pass it on to others who may be more vulnerable,” Deti said via email. “The truth is healthy children are also at risk for getting COVID-19 and Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, a very rare but serious condition that can occur after infection with the virus that causes COVID-19.”

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Researchers nationwide have been trying to determine just how dangerous COVID-19 is to children. While the data does show youth are less likely to develop severe illness from COVID-19 than older residents, the virus still poses a threat to younger people.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published June 4 found COVID-19 hospitalizations among adolescents were nearly three times greater than influenza hospitalizations during each of the last three flu seasons.

That same study found COVID-19 hospitalization rates among those 12-17 years old increased in March and April, while hospitalizations among those 65 years and older — “the age group with the highest COVID-19 vaccination coverage” — saw a stabilization of hospitalization rates.

The study identified 204 adolescents (12-17 years old) hospitalized for COVID-19 between January and March. A third of those patients required an intensive care unit and 5% required mechanical ventilation.

“Recent increased hospitalization rates and the potential for severe disease reinforce the importance of continued COVID-19 prevention measures among adolescents, including vaccination and correct and consistent wearing of masks,” the study concludes.

Deti echoed that conclusion, saying the “vast majority” of new COVID-19 cases are in people who aren’t fully vaccinated.

Wyoming adults are also turning out for vaccines at a much lower rate than most of the country. The state ranks fourth-lowest for the rate of first shots given and fifth-lowest for the proportion of fully-vaccinated residents.

About 203,000 residents have so far received at least one shot.

“Without vaccination the risk of illness could remain for people of all ages and that’s what we’re focused on avoiding. So if our coverage rates remain low the risk for illnesses in Wyoming continues and that is disappointing,” Deti said.

Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes

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Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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