North Dakota health leaders answer COVID-19, vaccine questions

An unfortunate side effect of increased COVID-19 activity, Newman said, was that some parents and guardians became more hesitant about having youth come in for regular exams and vaccinations.

Choosing not to vaccinate is not a risk-free choice, Rebecca Bakke, MD, said during a live, virtual “Ask a Doctor” Town Hall about back-to-school immunizations and COVID-19 vaccines for youth.

Bakke and Tracie Newman, MD, were joined by Molly Howell, MPH, of the North Dakota Department of Health. The town hall was held Friday, Aug. 6, partially in response to the upcoming 2021-2022 education year and also in response to the Delta variant of COVID-19.

The three health professionals reminded the public that COVID-19 vaccines are available for every North Dakotan over age 12. They also addressed frequently cited reasons for not receiving a vaccine, COVID-19 or otherwise.

“Healthy children and adults die from vaccine-preventable diseases every day,” Bakke said. “This includes chickenpox, tetanus and pneumococcal disease. Vaccines also protect others in addition to the vaccinated, like infants, the elderly and immunocompromised people.”

An unfortunate side effect of increased COVID-19 activity, Newman said, was that some parents and guardians became more hesitant about having youth come in for regular exams and vaccinations.

“Preparing children and teens to return to school is the perfect time to make sure they are up-to-date on immunizations,” Newman said. “Being up-to-date with child care is especially important during a pandemic.”

COVID-19 is now among the top 10 causes of death for adolescents in the United States, the doctors stated. Youth are currently at risk for serious illness and possibly long-term health issues.

“Children are at risk from COVID-19 variants, which are more contagious and may have worse effects on younger people,” Newman said.

Bakke’s presentation included answers to questions like “What about the long-term effects?”

“No known vaccine side effects occur more than 60 days after vaccination,” she said. “There is a high bar for safety and monitoring, as well as various monitoring systems. … Multiple studies have been done that show no relationship between vaccines and autism, SIDS, multiple sclerosis or diabetes.”

The town hall also included update information on COVID-19 and North Dakota adolescents:

• as of July, 16 percent of youth ages 12-17 years old have tested positive for COVID-19 in North Dakota

• as of July 19, the state reported 24 hospitalizations in youth ages 12-17

• the state hospitalization for the ages 12-17 group was 3.25 per every 1,000 cases

• eight cases of MIS-C, a rare but serious inflammatory syndrome in youth previously exposed to coronavirus, have been reported in North Dakota to date, compared to nearly 4,200 cases nationwide

• one North Dakota youth between ages 12-17 has died from COVID-19 to date

“In recent weeks, children made up a higher proportion of overall (COVID-19) infections,” Newman said. “This trend is expected to continue.”

Additional information on COVID-19, vaccinations and youth health is available at health.nd.gov. The Richland County Health Department can be contacted at 701-642-7735.

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