Dr. Oliver Brooks (Courtesy photos)

As California moves into the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, children remain a key component to the state’s SMARTER plan and keeping our communities safe and healthy going forward. Children’s exposure to the virus in schools, social events, and in family settings puts them, their loved ones and communities at greater risk for infection, making their vaccination more important than ever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccination rates for children have dropped sharply since earlier the pandemic. The decline has continued as vaccines have now been made available for children and youth 5-17. Recent CDC data shows that, nationally, approximately 9.1 million U.S. children ages 5-11 have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which is only 32 percent of the age group. In California, the number is even lower at just 19 percent.

To bring it closer to home, Black and African American children in California are the second most likely to die from the virus among Californian’s younger than 18, with 1.2 deaths per 100,000 Black and African American children.

It is important to remember that children remain susceptible. More than 700,000 children and adolescents in California have been infected with COVID-19. There have been more than 6,500 pediatric hospitalizations in our state since July of last year, and we have lost too many young lives since the start of the pandemic. Vaccinations protect kids from the most dangerous impacts of COVID-19, like hospitalization.

Lagging vaccination rates for school-age children means that not only are children at risk for infection, but so are teachers and other school staff, and their families.

We have a long way to go, nationally and in California; and the journey will be only longer if we do not get more of our children fully vaccinated.

Low vaccination rates are a signal of access issues in Black and African American communities. Examples of access issues include lacking transportation to get to an appointment, internet to schedule a vaccination appointment, or not having a primary care physician.

California has taken steps to start to address these barriers to vaccination. By making your appointment on the state’s vaccine portal by visiting MyTurn.ca.gov or calling 1-833-422-4255 and indicating you need help with transportation, the state will call you to arrange an in-home visit or transportation when available. Local pharmacies and community-based clinics are also great resources to get vaccinated near where you live or work.

Fears about vaccine safety are also a factor, with some parents expressing concern that COVID-19 vaccines may harm their child. The COVID-19 vaccines had to undergo rigorous testing and clinical trials to be approved for use, and all tests have deemed the vaccines are safe for children.

Children being vaccinated against COVID-19 is essential for public and population health. However, it is also important for their physical and mental health according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children thrive when they can socialize with their peers as part of their overall health. Being fully vaccinated ensures they can stay healthy for school and play.

For more about COVID-19, including guidance on masking and testing, visit covid19.ca.gov. You should also visit covid19.ca.gov or the CDC.gov more timely, accurate information about the pandemic. To schedule an appointment for a vaccination or a booster, visit MyTurn.ca.gov, or call 1-833-422-4255.

The next phase of COVID-19 is here for California.  By increasing vaccination rates among children and their families, we will help protect them and the entire community from COVID-19 infections.