Two words that when mixed together can cause mass hysteria. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, it is time to turn our attention to the younger citizens of our society. It is time to explain to teenagers why they should take the vaccine.
The first, and by far most obvious reason for taking the vaccine, is to slow the spread of the virus. Before vaccines were widely available to the American public, masks were used as a way to slow the spread due to COVID-19 being an airborne virus. Now, with mask requirements being more lenient in Texas, vaccines serve as the tool to slow the spread of the virus and its more contagious variants; the most common one right now being the B.1.617.2 (Delta).
Historically speaking, the widespread use of vaccinations for a particular disease can significantly lower its transmission and, in the case of smallpox, eradicate it, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The second reason teens should get vaccinated is to protect those who are unvaccinated. At this stage in the pandemic and vaccine layout, it is easy to dismiss those who are unvaccinated as anti-vaxxing conspiracy theorists. However, that is not always the case.
Currently in Texas, children under the age of 12 are not authorized to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which places them more at risk to contract the Delta variant.
Also, while not unauthorized to get the vaccine, people with less common underlying conditions like those allergic to certain ingredients in the mRNA vaccines may not be able to take the vaccine because the side effects could worsen their condition. In order to protect those who are medically not able to get vaccinated, widespread vaccination among those who can is important.
Finally, you must protect yourself.
When I talk to my peers, most tell me that because they have a lower chance of dying from the virus, they should not worry about or get the vaccine.
Despite that belief having a factual basis, according to reports from the CDC it does not put into context the long term effects of the virus.
While young teens are less likely to die from the virus compared to older adults, they are also just as likely to be asymptomatic and unaware they have the viral particles in their immune system.
The strain the virus puts on the immune system distracts it from defending the body against other minor illnesses which can cause those small illnesses to have a greater effect on the body than they usually do.
Throughout this pandemic, we have all missed out on typical American milestone events; like proms, graduations, birthday parties, and all the events we’ve been looking forward to pre-pandemic.
Now, we finally have a chance to return to a somewhat normal life by being safe and protecting those around us.
Together, we can all slowly limit the spread and potentially eradicate the virus, by simply getting vaccinated.
Jennifer Igbonoba is a senior at Rockwall High School in Rockwall, Texas and she is a Scripps Howard Foundation Emerging Journalists Intern with Texas Metro News.
Thabiti Boone is both a parent and a grandparent. His daughter is a nurse on the frontlines, and his son-in-law is a truck driver with health challenges andhas not yet taken the COVID-19vaccine. It has been more thanone year since Boone has seen his grandchildren. His daughter’s family has been working through virtual schooling and is actively taking COVID-19safety precautions.
As the world begins to open again, parents, grandparents, and caregivers are learning to navigate the challenges that come with COVID-19 safety in order to keep children and loved ones safe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current updated public health guidelines state that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks outside or inside. This decision has parents wondering what to do with their children who are not vaccinated and how to confront their own hesitations about COVID-19 vaccines.
In a recent webinar hosted by Black Doctors Against COVID-19 (BCAC), Boone shared his concerns about family dynamics and vaccinations for children.
“Yes, I’m a parent, but my daughter is close to 40. Yes, I’m a grandparent. The oldest [grandchild] is 14, next is 12, and my granddaughter is 5,” said Boone. “What happens when a parent has a child with some health challenges, particularly not a strong immune system? What do they do in respect to making decisions for that child to be vaccinated? How can I help my daughter in terms of decision-making? What does my daughter do with these different dynamics in her home in terms of making the right decisions around the vaccine?”
Dr. Samira L. Brown, primary care pediatrician and co-founder of Little Lives PPE, and Dr. Melissa Clarke, an expert in population health and co-founder of BCAC, were among the panel of minority health professionals who shared insight into children receiving the vaccine and whether a compromised immune system is a contraindication to getting vaccinated.
“Currently, the only contraindication to getting the vaccine is if you are allergic to one of the components,” said Dr. Brown. “You want to talk to your pediatrician, and we would definitely recommend that you vaccinate those children [who are eligible] because they are going to be at potentially increased risk for the complications of COVID. Really until then or even after [getting vaccinated] just for safety, you can continue to mask, continue to distance, and try to find out as much as you can about those around you if they’re vaccinated or not,” she added. “If you’re not sure, it’s always safest to assume that they’re not and continue all of those preventative measures. Vaccination, certainly, is going to be a key to help them have a level of immunity that they wouldn’t have.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is available for everyone ages 12 years and older. In the clinical trial for children 12 through 15 years old, no safety concerns were identified with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The clinical trial also showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 with symptoms in children 12 through 15 years old.
“Children do not have as much agency as to where they go and what they do. So when school is closed, they are basically in lockdown at home,” said Dr. Clarke. “By getting vaccinated, it’s giving them agency once again to reenter society. They see it very clearly as a way forward, where we as adults feel like we have more a choice in terms of the restrictions that have happened to us over this past year,” she added. “I think it’s a really important point that for our kids this is a way forward to reengage and get back to what they really missed out on. It may be hurting them in terms of mental health and maturation process.”
BCAC recommends that parents talk to their child’s pediatrician or nurse to learn more about COVID-19 vaccines or visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.
Around 1.1 million people are living with HIV in the United States of America (USA). Nearly one in seven of these people are unaware they have HIV.
The size of the HIV epidemic is relatively small compared to the country’s population but is heavily concentrated among several key affected populations. Around 70% of annual new HIV infections occur among gay and other men who have sex with men (sometimes referred to as MSM), among whom African American/Black men are most affected, followed by Latino/Hispanic men.
Heterosexual African American/Black women and transgender women of all ethnicities are also disproportionately affected.
The USA is the greatest funder of the global response to HIV, but also has an on-going HIV epidemic itself, with around 37,600 new infections a year. HIV affects locations differently as well, so we’ve compiled the cities with highest rates in the nation. *
Baltimore, Maryland – 24.3
According to GetTested.com, HIV infection rates in Baltimore are on the rise due to a lack of education. HIV is a lifelong infection that, if left untreated, can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), according toHIV.gov.
AIDS occurs when a person’s immune system becomes damaged, and people who are diagnosed with AIDS typically survive about three years.
Jacksonville, Florida – 25.1
Although Jacksonville isn’t thought of as a “party city” like other destinations on GetTested.com’s list, the site suggests that “The number of businesspeople and tourists who travel to Jacksonville,” might contribute to the high rates of HIV diagnoses and prevalence there. Forty-four percent of people diagnosed with HIV live in the South, even though the region only contains about a third of the U.S. population. Aside from Baltimore, all of the cities on GetTested.com’s list are in the South.
Columbia, South Carolina – 25.6
South Carolina’s Channel 10 WISTV.com reports that poverty, rural geography, lack of affordable healthcare and social stigma all contribute to the prevalence of HIV in the South. “Researchers say being a part of the ‘Bible Belt’ adds to the stigma,” they report, meaning that in some cases, a diagnosed person might not seek treatment due to fear of rejection from the religious community. Careteam+, a South Carolina non-profit healthcare provider, tells WISTV.com that they’ve lately been able to refer 500 percent more patients to specialized care thanks to the Affordable Care Act.
With antiretroviral therapy, someone who is HIV-positive can keep the illness under control and reduce their risk of infecting others.
Atlanta, Georgia – 25.9
Moving down the list from number 4 last year to number seven this year, more than 1,000 people are diagnosed with HIV each year in Atlanta. What’s even more interesting is that 50 percent of those people aren’t diagnosed until they already have AIDS.
Within the first two to four weeks of infection, some people experience flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, rash, night sweats, and fatigue, according to HIV.gov.
Others don’t show any symptoms at all, and about one in eight Americans with HIV don’t know that they have it. The only way to know if you have AIDS is to get tested. There are tons of places you can go to do this, including Planned Parenthood, medical clinics, hospitals, and substance-abuse treatment programs.
Memphis, Tennessee – 27.6
“A particularly concerning statistic from 2014 shows that about 2,000 people in Memphis who have the disease are not aware of it,” GetTested.com reports. “So they may continue to spread the infection.”
African American gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV, according to HIV.gov, followed by white gay and bisexual men. Heterosexual contact accounted for24 percent of all diagnoses in 2015, and 6 percent of infections were the result of injection drug use.
Orlando, Florida – 28.8
According to the CDC, the rate of HIV diagnoses in Orlando decreased slightly (0.9 percent) from 2013-2015. New HIV infections appear to be declining globally as well. December 1 marked the 28th World AIDS Day, and according to AIDS.gov, “the vast majority of people living with HIV are in low- and middle-income countries.”
Most people in these regions still don’t have access to prevention, treatment and care programs, and only 60 percent of the 36.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS know their status. Since the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief passed in 2003, the U.S. has spent more than $50 billion to test and treat people for HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, NPR reports. Other organizations, like U2 front man Bono’s (RED), are targeting mainstream audiences to raise awareness around the issue.
Jackson, Mississippi – 32.2
GetTested.com reports that in Jackson, there is “a concerted effort to inform the public about the PrEP pill.” Did you know there’s a pill out there that can actually prevent you from becoming infected with HIV even if you have sex with someone who is HIV-positive?
Pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily medication, can do just that, according to WhatisPrEP.org.
New Orleans, Louisiana – 36.9
An excess of 19,000 people in Louisiana are living with HIV. More than half of those people have AIDS. Although African Americans make up only 32 percent of the state population, they represented 73 percent of the state’s new cases in 2011, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.
The LDH urges Louisi-anians to get tested. “If people with HIV have the virus diagnosed early, they are able to receive treatment and care early enough to delay the onset of AIDS,” LDH Office of Publish Health Assistant Secretary J.T. Lane says in a press release.
Miami, Florida – 42.8
In 2015, Miami had the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the country. It also had the highest prevalence of the disease at the end of 2014, according to the CDC. It speculates that the city’s high HIV rates may be due to its culture.
So which city is number one? It may come as a surprise to some, but the number one city in the United States is…
Baton Rouge, Louisiana – 44.7
Baton Rouge claimed the No. 1 spot. It’s reported that many of the infections there “are due to shared needles since the city is the center of a massive opiate addiction issue.”
The CDC provides a list of steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones from HIV. Educate yourself by visiting the CDC website, talk about what you learn with friends and loved ones, and empower people by sharing your knowledge on social media.
So what cities are the ones with the lowest HIV rates?
According to the CDC, the prevalence of HIV within non-metropolitan districts of the U.S. runs at around 112.1 cases per 100,000. Of the 107 cities included in its 2015 report, only six fell beneath this threshold:
Boise, Idaho (71.7)
Rapid City, Michigan (100.1)
Fayetteville, Arkansas (108.8)
3.Madison, Wisconsin (110)
Ogden, Utah (48.6)
Provo, Utah (26.9)
By contrast, the 10 U.S. cities with the lowest rate of new HIV infections are:
*These numbers are based on the latest data compiled in 2019.
Federal health officials gave fully vaccinated people clearance to ditch their face masks in most situations. But after more than a year of following COVID-19 preventive measures, many feel hesitant about returning to their normal lives.
In guidance updated last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer have to wear face masks or social distance at gatherings of any size. The move came after increasing real-world evidence that vaccines were extremely protective against the virus.
While health experts say the science is solid, there are still certain factors vaccinated people need to account for before returning to normal. Here’s what three health experts said vaccinated people need to know about the new guidance.
Consider your own health before ditching your mask
All three health experts said that people fully vaccinated should consider their health before going without a face mask.
“What they don’t know, and what we still are learning a lot about, is people who are immunocompromised,” said Dr. Diana Cervantes, an assistant professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. “If you’re immunocompromised and you’re fully vaccinated, that’s a discussion you really should have with your doctor.”
Cervantes said while research has shown that the vaccines are up to 95% effective against COVID-19, they might not be that effective for everyone who gets them. She said how well a person responds to a vaccine depends on that individual’s overall health.
“People who are at highest risk for severe disease, so those who are diabetic, those who are older … in general they’re pretty covered,” she said. “Those who are taking chemotherapy or immunosuppressant drugs, or have conditions that definitely suppress their immune system, those are the patients [who may not be as covered].”
She said older people might consider more precautions even if they’re fully vaccinated because their health is more fragile.
“My mom is 86. She’s fully vaccinated, but she absolutely still wears her mask when she goes to the store,” Cervantes said. “In general, she’s careful with her health. You can’t compare her state of health to mine.”
Some situations still carry more risk than others
While the CDC says fully vaccinated people can go without a mask in most settings, all three health experts said that people should be aware that some situations will still present more risk than others.
“What I tell my patients, my family, my friends, is that outdoors is lower risk than indoors, mask is lower risk than unmasked, and vaccinated is lower risk than unvaccinated,” said Dr. Luis Ostrosky, a professor and the chief of infectious diseases at the McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston. “With that matrix, you can make decisions about what you want to do in your life.”
Ostrosky said he considers low-risk situations to be groups of less than 20 people or in settings where a large proportion are fully vaccinated.
Dr. Beth Kassanoff, an internal medicine physician with North Texas Preferred Health Partners and president of the Dallas County Medical Society, said the new guidelines should be taken as recommendations and people should still weigh the level of risk they’re willing to accept.
Someone with children who aren’t eligible for the vaccine, for example, may make different choices than a young adult in generally good health. It’s also possible for fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19, and while their case would most likely be mild, people should also consider if they can afford to feel bad for a few days if that were to happen.
“My 19-year-old who has been vaccinated, who is healthy, they may go over to a friend’s house and there may be some people who are vaccinated and some people who are not, and I don’t think they need to be all that concerned about it,” Kassanoff said. “That would be different than me, who has an increased risk of complications from COVID. I probably wouldn’t go sit around in somebody’s house if somebody hasn’t been vaccinated. Even though that’s not necessarily the CDC guidelines, that’s just the guideline that feels right for me.”
Ostrosky said people should remember the CDC’s new guidance still calls for masks in high-risk situations — including public transportation, airports and hospitals — but that those aren’t the only situations fully vaccinated people should consider high-risk.
According to the state’s data, about 40% of Texans 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While that does represent some protection, Ostrosky said things are still sort of “a game of odds.”
Without more individuals getting the shot, a significant amount of transmission can still happen in the community. The longer that goes on, the more likely that variants of the virus, which current vaccines may not protect against, will take over.
“If there’s a lot of unvaccinated people you may encounter just by odds, by chance, somebody who is infected with maybe a variant that’s not covered by the vaccine,” he said. “That’s what we worry about for big crowds and big settings.”
Did the new mask recommendation come too soon?
Kassanoff and Ostrosky said they thought the new mask guidance came a little too quickly.
Ostrosky said that he would have liked to see a larger percentage of people vaccinated nationwide before the CDC issued the new guidance, while Kassanoff expressed concerns that unvaccinated people would increasingly go without masks and that new variants could become dominant.
But the health experts said the hope is that the new guidelines give the people who have not been vaccinated an incentive to get the shots.
“I think that it needed to be done, honestly, because probably most people who were vaccinated were doing it anyway,” Cervantes said. “I think it gives [people] an incentive to be vaccinated because that’s what lots of people were saying, like, ‘Well, what’s the point of me being vaccinated if I still have to go around doing all this stuff?’”
Cervantes said guidance on masks could change if cases spike again.