I-TEAM: Analyzing local trends for COVID in kids

Published: Sep. 20, 2021 at 7:08 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - How important is it for your child to get vaccinated against COVID? What kind of impacts are we seeing locally? Our I-Team requested admissions records for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia every month since the pandemic began.


These numbers represent kids under 18 hospitalized with COVID. You can see that early in the pandemic, the most kids we ever saw admitted at once was around the previous peak back in January and February, then around July, the delta variant started to emerge, and by August as school started back our Children’s Hospital admitted 35 kids in a month. That’s nearly triple the numbers we saw in our previous peak.

Our I-Team spoke with an 11-year-old counting down the days until his 12th birthday or for the Pfizer shot to be approved for younger kids, whichever comes first.

Ethan Ray is your average 11-year-old boy. He loves video games and football. His favorite team is Georgia. But unlike most kids his age, he isn’t asking for a big party or a new gaming system for his 12th birthday he’s asking for a shot.

“I decided to get vaccinated around my birthday because that’s when I can get it. I want to stay safe from the virus,” said Ethan.

And he’s not alone. For some kids his age it’s become an unofficial right of passage. Our I-Team found in the past month since school started, 952 more kids aged 12 to 19 in Richmond County have gotten the vaccine. In Columbia County 841 more kids.

“Lately the conversation has been a lot of his friends looking forward to their birthday, so I think he’s pretty adamant that he’ll get it right on his birthday,” said Dr. Chadburn Ray OBGYN, director of perinatal service at Augusta University Health.

Ethan’s parents are both doctors at AU Health. Ray treats pregnant mothers fighting COVID. And Ethan has heard what they’re dealing with for months.

“I’ve heard COVIDs really dangerous. I’ve seen it be really dangerous. A lot of people have been in the hospital too, so I just want to stay safe from that,” he said.

“We’re seeing folks regret not getting a vaccine. We’re seeing some folks who are COVID deniers who are getting a real wake-up call as themselves or their loved ones are sick,” said Ray.

But despite how his parent feel they decided to leave the choice up to Ethan.

“They can process this information, make an informed decision, and we allowed them to make that decision for themselves. I think it’s pretty cool that a kid can make a decision about keeping themselves safe and others safe,” said Ray.

“I’d rather be sick for a day after getting the vaccine than be sick for a while getting COVID,” said Ethan.

The I-Team found vaccine hesitancy for teenagers is slightly easing. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found nationwide nearly half of all parents are willing to get their teens vaccinated. 23 percent taking a wait and see approach, another 9 percent would consent if the vaccinations were required and 20 percent still say they refuse.

With his older brother and parents already vaccinated, it’s been a pretty tense waiting game for Ethan’s turn.

“I do feel comfortable with his older brother going to school and not getting sick. But I have a lot of fear for Ethan,” said Ray.

So when can we expect kids under 12 to have access to the vaccine? On Monday, we learned it could come in a matter of weeks.

Pfizer’s data from their trial for kids ages 5 to 11 is now in the hands of the Food and Drug Administration. The company says the shot given in a smaller dose during trials is safe for the age range and produced strong COVID antibodies. The trial data for even younger children 6 months to 5 years old is expected by Halloween. Which local experts say cannot come soon enough.

“We are seeing younger patients critically ill. Previous waves of this, we didn’t see young 22-year-olds or teenagers or pediatric patients being that dramatically affected by this disease,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, AU Health chief medical officer. “But the delta variant is definitely different. And, we are seeing young people become critically ill with this disease, and in some cases dying.”

We went 18 months during the pandemic without any local child deaths. But in the last month and a half along with the 35 hospitalizations, our I-Team found in August we also know of three children who died of COVID complications. A special needs 15-year-old, a 4-year-old who recently had abdominal surgery, and a 9-year-old with a comorbidity.

Which is why Ethan’s eager for Oct. 1.

“So I can protect myself and others from the virus,” he said.

We received September numbers so to date, the Children’s Hospital of Georgia has admitted 27 COVID patients this month with another 10 days left to go so still more than doubling our previous peaks back in January and February.

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