April 13, 2024


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Startup of shots for kids raises racial concerns

The rollout of covid-19 shots for elementary-age children has exposed another blind spot in the nation’s efforts to address pandemic inequalities: Health systems have released little data on the racial breakdown of youth vaccinations, and community leaders fear that Black and Hispanic kids are falling behind.

Only a handful of states have made public data on covid-19 vaccinations by race and age. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not compile racial breakdowns either.

Despite the lack of hard data, public health officials and medical professionals are mindful of disparities and have been reaching out to communities of color to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

That includes going into schools, messaging in other languages, deploying mobile vaccine units and emphasizing to skeptical parents that the shots are safe and powerfully effective. Public health leaders believe racial gaps are driven by work and transportation barriers, as well as lingering reluctance and information gaps.

In the few places that do report child covid-19 vaccinations by race, the breakdowns vary.

In Hartford, 39% of children between 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. Across the city line in the suburb of West Hartford, 88% of children the same age are fully vaccinated, according to state data updated in November.

Hartford’s school system is 80% Black and Hispanic. West Hartford’s schools are 73% white.

Parents who dropped off their children Monday morning at a diverse Hartford elementary school provided a glimpse into the various opinions around child covid-19 vaccinations. The school’s enrollment is more than 75% Hispanic, Black and Asian.

Some expressed mistrust of the vaccines and had no plans to get their children vaccinated. Others were completely on board.

One father was skeptical at first but said communications from the school convinced him of the benefits of vaccinations for students, including an end to the disruptions to in-person learning.

Ed Brown said his 9-year-old son will be vaccinated because the boy’s mother feels strongly about it, even though he still has some reservations. One result of the shot becoming available for his son, Brown said, is that he will get vaccinated himself.

“I will not give my son something I don’t know is safe,” said Brown, who is Black.

Another parent, Zachary Colon, said she was determined not to have her children vaccinated.

“I’m not vaccinating my son,” she said. “I read it got FDA approval really quickly. I’m afraid they don’t know enough about it.”

Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, the superintendent of Hartford schools, said the low vaccination rate among her students means more of them end up missing school.

If vaccinated students are exposed to infected people, they can come to school as long as they are not showing symptoms. Unvaccinated students have to test negative in order to return immediately.

“That can become another barrier for some of our families. Some of our families, for a variety of reasons, they don’t get the test, and so they have to wait out the seven to 10 days. And so absolutely, it has kept students home,” she said.

The White House has made health equity a top priority, and its coronavirus task force said last week that the country has closed the racial gap among the overall population of 194 million people who are fully vaccinated. The Biden administration also said it is spending nearly $800 million to support organizations that seek to broaden vaccine confidence among communities of color and low-income Americans.

But federal, state and local systems for tracking public health data are still limited and underfunded, including tracking data for racial disparities in child vaccinations, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“We’ve not invested in the data system that we absolutely need to have for public health,” Benjamin said. “That is the fundamental failure of this system.”

Without widespread numbers on who is getting the shot, it’s difficult to know what disparities may exist, said Samantha Artiga, director of the racial equity and health policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“Data are key for getting a complete picture and understanding where disparities are present,” Artiga said. “They can be used to focus efforts and resources and then measure progress to addressing them over time.”

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s covid-19 shot yielded the strongest immune response among four vaccines tested in a study, which found people getting Sinopharm’s inoculation may be particularly susceptible to a breakthrough infection.


Levels of protective antibodies to the part of the coronavirus that SARS-CoV-2 uses to infect human cells varied widely across each of the four vaccine groups. “Relatively low” antibody concentrations were stimulated by the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines, intermediate levels for the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, and the highest values for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a study in the journal Cell Host and Microbe showed.

The reasons for the differences in immune responses between vaccine types are the subject of intense research. They are likely to include factors such as the amount of active ingredient in each dose and the interval between getting the first and second shots, said the authors from Stanford University, the Onom Foundation, and the National Center for Zoonotic Diseases in Ulaanbaatar in the paper published Thursday.

Variations in how the vaccines were given could have played a role in the results. The study comparisons were flawed, with more time elapsed between administration of the Sputnik V shot and the antibody measurements than with the other immunizations, according to the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund, which backed Sputnik V’s development and is in charge of its international rollout.

Those getting Sputnik V were also 10 years older than the participants who were given the other shots, the investment fund said.

The study was conducted in July among 196 fully immunized people in Mongolia, where all four shots were used, a rarity. The results suggested that Sinopharm recipients, who accounted for 89.2% of vaccinated adults in Mongolia at the time, as well as the smaller number of people given Sputnik V or AstraZeneca vaccines, could be susceptible to breakthrough infections, the authors said.

“Additional public health interventions, such as booster vaccine doses, potentially with the more potent vaccine types, may be needed to further control the covid-19 pandemic in Mongolia and worldwide,” they said.

The study didn’t provide details on the vaccination regimens used, including the interval between doses, which may have underestimated the antibody response to the AstraZeneca vaccine, or study the cellular immune response, said Sam Fazeli, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.

Mongolia experienced a summer wave of coronavirus infections due mostly to the alpha variant, the researchers said. High antibody levels were seen in all vaccine groups after a breakthrough infection.

“Faced with the public health crisis of increasing SARS-CoV-2 infections and limited supply or distribution of the most effective vaccines, widespread vaccination with a lower efficacy vaccine may still represent a route to decreasing infections, hospitalizations, and mortality,” the authors said.


Florida lawmakers on Monday began debating a package of bills to combat coronavirus vaccine mandates, continuing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fight against virus rules.The weeklong special legislative session in the GOP-controlled statehouse includes proposals to let workers opt out of covid-19 vaccine mandates and allow parents to sue schools with masking requirements.

DeSantis called the special session amid continued public sparring with the Biden administration over federal vaccine mandates.

The DeSantis administration has previously sued the White House over a rule requiring vaccinations for federal contractors. It recently joined more than two dozen other Republican-led states in lawsuits challenging another federal vaccine mandate for private businesses with 100 employees or more.

The Republican measures would bar private businesses from having coronavirus vaccine mandates unless they allow exemptions for medical reasons, religious beliefs, proof of immunity based on a prior covid-19 infection, regular testing and an agreement to wear protective gear.

Employers would be subject to fines up to $50,000 for firing a worker without offering the exemptions. Another provision bars covid-19 vaccine mandates for public school and government workers in Florida.

Democrats have denounced the special session as political theater meant to raise DeSantis’ standing within the GOP.

“I am sick and tired of having to be a pawn in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political ambitions,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat.

Florida Republicans argue the bills are necessary to prevent overreach by the White House.

“We don’t believe that the federal government should be in a position to force vaccines,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Republican.

Information for this article was contributed by Annie Ma, Mike Melia, Angel Kastanis, Ashraf Khalil and Anthony Izaguirre of The Associated Press and by Jason Gale of Bloomberg News.

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