AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Public Health’s top doctor is urging parents to get their children vaccinated for the coronavirus before school begins in just a few weeks.
“We are now seeing more pediatric cases of COVID-19, and we are now able to vaccinate children 12 and over,” said Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes during a briefing Thursday.
This KXAN graph shows how many eligible children have been vaccinated in Travis County compared to other age groups.
Grace Pariseau is now one of them. The 12 year old wasn’t initially excited about it, as she had already gotten about four other shots for school.
“I immediately just started getting stressed over when it would happen, what it would feel like,” she said.
Mom Katie said once they discussed the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine with Grace, she agreed.
“We talked about the impact to the community and our family and the fact that it was going to kind of free her up to be a little more normal,” Katie said.
Grace got her second shot at Austin Independent School District’s clinic on Thursday — a relief for Katie.
“When I got my vaccine, I cried in my car, because it was just, it was a relief, it was a mental relief of stress that I didn’t even know I was harboring for a really long time,” she said. “So when she got her first one, it was just another wave of relief.”
AISD said it has dispensed more than 3,000 shots to students at its pop-up clinics.
The district also sent an email to families Thursday, echoing Dr. Walkes’ call for more to step up.
Right now, APH’s dashboard indicates thousands of kids have COVID-19. Dell Children’s Medical Center said it is treating seven of them at its hospital.
Impact on kids
“I still think that children don’t get the disease as frequently as adults, but we are seeing more children getting it than adults right now, because more and more adults are getting vaccinated, and we don’t have as many kids that are being vaccinated,” said Dr. Keren Hasbani, a pediatric cardiologist at Dell Children’s.
Hasbani said while the delta variant seems to be more contagious, it doesn’t appear to be as virulent.
“In some ways that’s a good thing, because you’re not getting people as sick, but on the other hand, more people may potentially get sick,” she said.
But Hasbani said we’re also learning more about the virus’ long-term impact. In the beginning of the pandemic, she said doctors believed once patients got over the initial sickness, they were out of the woods.
“What we’re seeing now is that some people have symptoms that resurge anywhere between three weeks to six months after they had the disease,” she said.
Those are generalized symptoms they can’t say for sure are from COVID-19, but also can’t rule the virus out, including fatigue, anxiety, depression and shortness of breath.
“The other thing that we’re seeing is that kids… when they get COVID initially, can be very, you know, very asymptomatic, or no symptoms at all as we say, and then can slowly begin to get more symptoms later on,” Hasbani said.
That includes not having the same energy or capabilities and not being able to go to school.
Hasbani is also the principal investigator on Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome there or MIS-C. She said we’ve learned more about the illness that’s linked to COVID-19 through data from Italy and the United Kingdom, where the pandemic hit sooner than the United States.
“Almost all the kids with MIS-C had very mild COVID. So the milder the COVID was, all of a sudden… the MIS-C showed up six weeks later,” she said.
Hasbani reminds families that from first shot to peak immunity takes about five weeks. But even if you miss that window before your child starts school, she said it’s never too late.
“Getting the vaccine now, and even if they start school before the second one has been given or before the second one has fully taken effect, will still protect them more than not giving it at all,” she said.
Hasbani said you can achieve herd immunity in your own community or even household by making sure everyone who is eligible gets their COVID-19 shots.
“I think parents should hear that there are kids out there that are getting COVID and are getting sick and that are staying sick for a long time. And that immunization is really critical,” she said.
Grace said getting her shot makes her feel a little more comfortable returning to school.
“I’ve survived one year of middle school; I can survive two more,” she said.