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YKHC continues urging COVID-19 vaccinations as omicron subvariants drive an uptick in cases among children

A patient receives a COVID-19 vaccine.
Loren Holmes
YKHC says that getting vaccinated while pregnant can reduce the likelihood of preterm labor and delivery due to COVID-19-related complications.

As COVID-19 cases in the region decline, young children have begun to make up the majority of new infections. KYUK’s Elyssa Loughlin has this week’s case numbers and why local health officials continue urging vaccination, especially among people who are pregnant.

COVID-19 infections are on the rise among children in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. This age group includes infants up to age nine, and has accounted for the most COVID-19 infections of any age group for four out of the past six weeks. More than half of the children in this age group are ineligible for vaccination, leading to a higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19 infection.

During the height of the omicron surge in February 2022, children under age five were the most likely to be hospitalized due to serious COVID-19 infection. Children under five are too young for vaccination. Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said that at one point during the omicron surge, all of the patients hospitalized in Bethel were newborns. Fortunately, Hodges said, new and expecting parents can help protect their babies by getting vaccinated. "Getting vaccinated while you're pregnant or breastfeeding really offers good protection to those babies and prevents those respiratory infections that we know are so critical to avoid in that first year of life."

Vaccination can also protect a pregnant parent and child during pregnancy. Hodges said that during the omicron surge earlier this year, the majority of preterm labor and deliveries at YKHC were among unvaccinated individuals who were infected with COVID-19. "A lot of preterm labor and preterm deliveries were associated with a COVID infection," Hodges said. "But even when they're not seriously ill, they'll tend to go into preterm labor and have and have preterm babies."

As cases rise across the state and nation again, health officials remind the public that getting vaccinated is the best form of protection against serious illness from COVID-19, including hospitalizations and death. The increase has not yet been seen in the Y-K Delta. National trends tend to arrive later to the region. Over the past week, YKHC reported a 23% decrease in reported COVID-19 cases, and one COVID-19-related hospitalization in Bethel.

The region remains at a medium community COVID-19 level. The community COVID-19 level takes into account the number of new COVID-19 cases compared to the resources available to treat patients.

Over the past week, in alphabetical order by community, YKHC announced two cases in Akiachak, one in Atmautluak, 24 in Bethel, one in Emmonak, one in Grayling, five in Holy Cross two in Kasigluk, one in Kipnuk, two in Kotlik, 13 in Nunapitchuk, one in Scammon Bay, four in St. Mary’s, five in Toksook Bay, four in Tuntutuliak, and four in Tununak.

Per 100,000 people over seven days, 241 developed COVID-19 in-region. That’s compared to the national case rate of 193 cases per 100,000 people, and the state case rate of 246 cases per 100,000 people over the same period of time.

YKHC reports that 18,475 individuals, or 69% of the eligible population, are completely vaccinated against COVID-19. The state DHSS reports that 64.9% of all eligible Alaskans have completed a vaccine series. Nationwide, 70.7% of the population that is five or older is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Local health officials continue to urge wearing masks and getting vaccinated and boosted against the virus to protect your health, and to prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed by new cases. Anyone with questions about the virus is encouraged to visit the YKHC COVID-19 Dashboard or call the COVID-19 hotline at 907-543-6949.

Elyssa (she/her) is the Wellness Programming Producer and a second year Jesuit Volunteer/Americorps Member at KYUK. She loves dogs, listening to podcasts and playing ABBA to close out the Birthday Line.
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