CDC director urges parents to vaccinate adolescents

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky
Greg Nash

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky urged parents to vaccinate adolescents and teenagers against the coronavirus Friday, adding that COVID-19 can be severe for this age group. 

In a statement accompanying a study showing increased rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations among adolescents 12–17 years old, Walensky said she was concerned by the findings.

“I am deeply concerned by the numbers of hospitalized adolescents and saddened to see the number of adolescents who required treatment in intensive care units or mechanical ventilation,” Walensky said. 

According to the study, COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates among adolescents increased during a recent surge in cases earlier this spring. Nearly one-third of the 204 adolescents hospitalized between Jan. 1 and March 31 required ICU admission. 

“Much of this suffering can be prevented,” Walensky said.  

Even though a coronavirus vaccine was not authorized for use in adolescents until last month, Walensky urged “parents, relatives and close friends to join me and talk with teens about the importance of these prevention strategies and to encourage them to get vaccinated.”

Most COVID-19–associated hospitalizations occur in older adults, but severe disease that requires hospitalization occurs in all age groups, the CDC said. 

The study found that after declines in January and February 2021, weekly population-based rates of COVID-19–associated hospitalization among adolescents increased during March and April. At the same time, hospitalization rates among people over age 65 stabilized, likely because they have the highest COVID-19 vaccination coverage.

While 70 percent of the adolescents in the small study had an underlying condition, mainly obesity, nearly 30 percent had no reported underlying condition, “indicating that healthy adolescents are also at risk for severe COVID-19-associated disease.”

The study suggested the increased hospitalization rates among adolescents might be related to several factors, including circulation of particularly transmissible variants, larger numbers of children returning to school or other in-person indoor activities and changes in physical distancing, mask wearing and other COVID-19 prevention behaviors.

Walensky said adolescents shouldn’t let up on the prevention behavior that works.

“Until they are fully vaccinated, adolescents should continue to wear masks and take precautions when around others who are not vaccinated to protect themselves, and their family, friends and community,” Walensky said.

If those prevention measures had not been practiced at all, “the rates of COVID-19-associated hospitalization might have been substantially higher,” the report said. 

“Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic. I continue to see promising signs in CDC data that we are nearing the end of this pandemic in this country; however, we all have to do our part and get vaccinated to cross the finish line,” Walensky said. 

Tags adolescent vaccinations Coronavirus COVID-19 vaccines Rochelle Walensky

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