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Editorial: Too few Oklahoma youths are protected against COVID-19

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Too few young Oklahomans are being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Only 13.6% of Oklahoma children ages 12 to 17 have had at least one dose of vaccine, and only 6.7% are fully vaccinated, according to federal data.

The age demographics with the most COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma are the 12 to 17 and 18 to 35 cohorts.

“I do have concerns that if we get to the fall and we’re bringing students back together — those younger age groups, and those vaccination rates in those age groups remains quite low — that we could see spread of the disease once again,” Dr. Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID officer, recently told the Tulsa World’s Corey Jones.

The Oklahoma Legislature has largely tied the hands of local school and college officials to deal with that sort of resurgence of COVID-19 this fall.

Senate Bill 658 prohibits public or private colleges or universities in Oklahoma from requiring students to get a COVID-19 vaccination in order to be admitted or attend classes. It prohibits colleges and universities from requiring unvaccinated students to wear masks.

The law also prohibits public schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations and only allows school boards to require that students wear masks after consulting with a local health officials and, then, only if the governor has signed a state of emergency that includes the district’s portion of the state.

Obviously, this is an issue for parents to take very seriously.

Children are generally less likely to suffer from severe effects of COVID-19, but some have become seriously ill and have died. Children also can pass the disease on to others at greater risk from the disease.

Another legitimate concern is what we don’t know about the long-term effects of COVID-19. We have less than two years of information on what happens when people are infected.

A childhood infection with chicken pox can be a matter of a simple rash and a fever, but the varicella-zoster virus remains in nerve cells after the infection has healed and can reactivate as shingles — a painful cluster of short-lived blisters — in older adults and people who have weakened immune systems.

Oklahoma’s vaccination progress has stalled. Only 35% of vaccination-eligible state residents — 1.16 million people — are fully immunized, according to the state data released Thursday.

About 1.4 million Oklahomans — 42.1% — have received at least one dose of vaccine.

Meanwhile, thousands of doses of vaccine sent to protect the state are on the verge of passing their expiration dates. While the FDA has extended the shelf lives of some of the vaccine, it would be a shame to waste any of it.

Vaccination is safe, free, effective and broadly available.

SB 658 was a mistake that leaves parents with few good choices to protect their children, except for the obvious one: vaccination.

Featured video:

Editorial Pages Editor Wayne Greene reads his column, "In Oklahoma, unvaccinated college students can do whatever they want, and their school can't do much about it"


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