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Missouri parents are still hesitant to get their kids the COVID-19 vaccine

nurse Lisa Heithhaus, a staff registered nurse, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Ben Meyerkord, 11, of Crestwood in November at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Vaccinations for 5 to 11-year-olds have stalled in Missouri and nationwide.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Lisa Heithhaus, a staff registered nurse, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Ben Meyerkord, 11, of Crestwood, in November at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The federal government recently approved vaccinations for children from 5 to 12 years of age.

Missouri parents are still hesitant to vaccinate their kids against COVID-19.

Children between 5 and 11 have been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine for nearly three months, but only about 13% of children that age in Missouri are fully vaccinated.

Health officials say that’s making more children sick and contributing to the winter’s record-high numbers of cases and hospitalizations.

In early November, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Preventionapproved the vaccine for kids as young as 5. The vaccine is the same as the adult shot but comes in a kid-size dose.

Persuading parents to vaccinate their children has proven to be a hard sell, Jefferson County Health Director Kelley Vollmar said. About 9% of children there are fully vaccinated.

“What we’re finding is that parents are more comfortable getting the vaccine for themselves if they consider it to be a new vaccine,” Vollmar said. “They still consider it experimental, even though it’s been widely tested and proven; they’re nervous about getting it for their children.”

Few people visited the pediatric vaccination clinic the department held in December, she said.

In part because of the low vaccination rates in that age group, the number of cases among young children has gone up during the wave fueled by the omicron variant of the virus, she said.

One in four children ages 5 to 11 in St. Louis County and one in five in St. Louis are fully vaccinated. In some rural Missouri counties, only about 1% have gotten the vaccine. Nationwide, 18% of children in that age group are fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Kaiser Health News.

Many parents are hesitant to have their kids vaccinated, said Clayton Maxfield, pharmacy manager at Lemonade Community Pharmacy in Shrewsbury, unsure "if a newly developed vaccine is something they want to give to their children."

“They might be more willing to take the risk themselves, but not so willing to put their kids at this risk they see,” he said.

Maxfield tells parents that drug companies and federal agencies wouldn’t approve a vaccine that wasn’t safe for both adults and children, and that the vaccine has been tested extensively. But many people have made up their minds about whether to give their children the shot, he said.

Parents are also seeing reports that COVID-19 illness among younger people is usually mild, he said.

“Children without any health conditions aren’t as affected as adversely from COVID, so they don’t see a big need to get their children vaccinated right away,” Maxfield said.

Health experts say unvaccinated kids are helping transmit the disease in their households, which could put loved ones at risk and could keep the virus spreading among communities.

“One of the things we notice in data collection is [that] home is where it spreads the fastest,” Vollmar said. “Once a positive case comes in, it’s very likely it will work its way through the entire household.

“It’s so important to do those preventative steps,” she said. “It really can make a difference for those vulnerable individuals.”

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.