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Vaccine rollout for children older than 6 months begins in Bethel as children continue to make up the largest number of new COVID-19 cases

Ciara Sexton winces as Meghan DeSloover gives her a COVID-19 vaccine shot at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau on Nov. 9, 2021. She says getting her ears pierced was worse. Also pictured: Jamison Smith.
Jeremy Hsieh
Ciara Sexton winces as Meghan DeSloover gives her a COVID-19 vaccine shot at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School in Juneau on Nov. 9, 2021. Sexton said that getting her ears pierced was worse. Also pictured: Jamison Smith.

Many children in Bethel are going to bed tonight with a Band-Aid on their arm. On July 6, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corportation (YKHC) began vaccinations for all individuals in Bethel aged 6 months or older, marking what could be a turning point in COVID-19 protection for the region’s youngest residents.

Vaccine rollout in Bethel begins as children make up the largest number of new COVID-19 infections for the fifth week in a row. Last week, children aged 0 to 9 accounted for more than 20% of the region’s new cases.

During the omicron surge this winter, YKHC saw a startling increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations among children. YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges is hoping that she won’t see so many young patients in the emergency room in the future. "Now we have an opportunity to protect that age group," Hodges said.

Vaccines can also lower an individual’s risk for severe infection, according to YKHC Public Health Director Brian Lefferts. "Vaccines can help reduce the burden of long COVID as well by up to 50%. So even if your kid’s healthy, get them vaccinated. It can prevent them from getting severe disease or hospitalized, and it can prevent them from getting long COVID."

While the attention concerning vaccination shifts to children, health officials want the public to remember that vaccination for all age groups remains important. Effectively, the entire Y-K Delta can now be protected from COVID-19 via vaccination. Everyone older than 6 months can get the shot, and newborns can gain immunity from their vaccinated parents.

"So pregnant moms out there and breastfeeding moms, also really important that you get vaccinated and get any boosters that you're eligible for," Hodges said. "That gives the most protection to those babies ages 0 through 6 months of age who aren't able to be vaccinated."

To schedule an appointment for vaccination in Bethel, call 907-543-6949. In villages, call 907-543-6420 for information on when vaccines will arrive in your village.

Per 100,000 people over seven days, 503 developed COVID-19 in-region. That’s compared to the national case rate of 218 cases per 100,000 people, and the state case rate of 360 per 100,000 people over the same period of time. The regional case rate fell by 17% over the past week, from 176 to 146. Over the same period of time, the national and state rates both increased.

There was one in-region hospitalization at YKHC due to COVID-19 infection over the past week, and YKHC reports that the Y-K Delta is experiencing a medium community COVID-19 level. The region has remained at a medium COVID-19 level since March, when YKHC began announcing these levels.

Over the past week, in alphabetical order by community, YKHC announced three cases in Akiachak, six in Alakanuk, one in Aniak, one in Atmautluak, 38 in Bethel, three in Eek, one in Hooper Bay, three in Kipnuk, one in Kongiganak, 10 in Kotlik, nine in Kwethluk, one in Kwigillingok, 26 in Marshall, three in Mountain Village, 11 in Napakiak, one in Nunapitchuk, two in Pilot Station, two in Quinhagak, two in Russian Mission, seven in St. Mary’s, two in Toksook Bay, one in Tuntutuliak, and one in Tununak.

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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