Kids in states with lower vaccination rates were more than three times as likely to need hospital care for COVID

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

Here’s the study Rochelle Walensky promised yesterday. How do you protect a population of children under 12 when they’re not eligible to be vaccinated? You can mask them, but cloth masks don’t do much to suppress viral particles and kids probably aren’t going to wear them properly and diligently.


You can space them out, but keeping kids from socializing with others risks psychological and development problems.

Until they’re eligible for the jab, the best prevention strategy is ample ventilation and surrounding them with as many vaccinated people as possible. Make it harder for the virus to reach them by having to pass through adults with immunity and logically kids will be less likely to get infected.

The CDC now has data on a statewide level that bears out that intuition. Parents, teachers, and everyone else who’s worried about the children in their community can partially protect them by getting jabbed.

The percent of COVID-19 ED visits in August 2021 in the quartile of states with the lowest vaccination coverage was 3.4 times that in the quartile of states with the highest vaccination coverage (Table). The rate (per 100,000 persons) of COVID-19 admissions in August 2021 in the quartile of states with the lowest vaccination coverage was 3.7 times that in the quartile of states with the highest vaccination coverage.

The lowest vaccination coverage among persons aged ≥12 years (49.9%), highest percentage of COVID-19–associated ED visits (8.32), and highest COVID-19 hospital admission rates (0.84) were observed in HHS Region 4. In contrast, the highest vaccination coverage (72.2%), lowest COVID-19 incidence (13.3), and lowest rate of hospital admission (0.12) among persons aged 0–17 years were observed in HHS Region 1…

Importantly, the study also found “that the proportion of those patients admitted to an ICU during the pre-Delta period (March 1, 2020–June 19, 2021) and the Delta-predominant period (June 20–July 31, 2021) did not differ (26.5% and 23.2%, respectively).” That’s the basis for the good news that Walensky shared last night about how Delta doesn’t appear to be making kids sicker on average even though it’s infecting a lot more of them than previous strain did.


One number we’re missing right now is how much more likely the unvaccinated are to transmit the virus than the vaccinated. We know from the Provincetown study and others that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can have the same viral load as infected unvaccinated people. What we don’t know is (a) how commonly the vaxxed are getting infected and (b) whether they’re less capable on average of passing along the virus than the unvaxxed are. A study in July out of Singapore showed that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections do have similar viral loads to the unvaxxed *at first.* But they end up clearing the virus from their system more quickly than the unvaccinated, making them non-infectious to others days before the unvaxxed reach the same stage.

If it’s true that the vaxxed don’t get infected as often as the unvaxxed, don’t pass it on as commonly, and pass it on for shorter durations when they’re infectious — all of which are safe assumptions — then no wonder kids who are mostly around vaccinated adults are at lower risk.

And needless to say, children who are themselves vaccinated are at much lower risk of severe illness than ones who aren’t. That’s the finding of the other CDC study out today. Quote: “During June 20–July 31, 2021, among 68 adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 whose vaccination status had been ascertained, 59 were unvaccinated, five were partially vaccinated, and four were fully vaccinated; the hospitalization rate among unvaccinated adolescents was 0.8 per 100,000 person-weeks (95% CI = 0.6–0.9), compared with 0.1 (95% CI = 0.0–0.1) in fully vaccinated adolescents (rate ratio = 10.1; 95% CI = 3.7–27.9).” That’s a tenfold higher risk for unvaxxed kids of landing in the ER relative to vaxxed ones.


Meanwhile, in “alternative treatments” news

For anti-vaccine activists, the clinical trial results couldn’t have been better. The drug ivermectin, scientists in Argentina announced last year, prevented 100% of COVID-19 infections…

But there are signs that at least some of the experiments — as written up in a paper published in November — didn’t happen as advertised. After BuzzFeed News raised questions about how the study’s data was collected and analyzed, a representative from the Journal of Biomedical Research and Clinical Investigation, which published the results, said late Monday, “We will remove the paper temporarily.” A link was removed from the table of contents — but was reinstated by Thursday. The journal’s explanation, provided after this story was published, was that the author “informed us that he has already provided the evidence of his study to the media.”

The numbers, genders, and ages of the study’s participants were inconsistent. A hospital named in the paper as taking part in the experiments said it has no record of it happening. Health officials in the province of Buenos Aires have also said that they also have no record of the study receiving local approval.

That’s the second buzzworthy ivermectin study to have cold water thrown on it.

There are two potential complications to the CDC’s conclusion that kids are less likely to be hospitalized in states with higher vaccination rates. One is obvious, that states where more adults are vaccinated are also more likely to take other aggressive mitigation measures. We’re all familiar with the partisan/cultural divide by now in which blue areas are risk-averse and therefore more likely to be vaxxed and to mandate masks, limit business capacity, and so on, while red areas are less risk-averse and thus less likely to be vaxxed and to tolerate restrictions. The tighter restrictions in blue states may be contributing to the lower number of hospitalizations among kids by limiting infections.


The other complication is seasonality. Ron DeSantis made the point during Florida’s horrendous COVID wave this summer that he’s not surprised to see southern states suffering with the virus at the moment. It’s what happened last summer too, after all. As the weather gets hotter, more people seek refuge indoors, where the virus spreads. That’ll change as temperatures cool and Delta starts to move north. Question, then: Are more kids in low-vax states landing in the hospital this summer because their state’s vaccination rate is low or are they landing in the hospital because those low-vax states happen to be experiencing their massive seasonal waves at the moment?

Jim Geraghty offers the example of Massachusetts, which is experiencing a wave and some hospital strain lately from Delta despite the fact that two-thirds of its population is fully vaccinated, one of the best rates in the country. Massachusetts probably hasn’t even been hit full-force by Delta yet since the virus isn’t “in season” there now. The acid test for the CDC’s study will be what happens in the northeast, a heavily vaccinated region, this fall and winter. Will those high vax rates mean fewer kids in the ER for COVID? Or will it turn out that the correlation the agency is seeing between children’s hospitalization rates and state vaccination rates is just an artifact of seasonality? Stay tuned.

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