Juneau’s high vaccination rates among young people stand out amid wave of delta variants

Garrett McGuan, 12, receives his first dose of the COVID1-9 vaccine at Dzantik’i Heeni College on Monday, May 17. (Photo by Paige McGuan)

Even though Juneau is experiencing its biggest COVID wave of the pandemic, schools are open and sports and other extracurricular activities are taking place in person. But statewide, officials say the Delta variant hits children hard.

Juneau was not spared by the delta variant. The number of COVID-19 cases is much higher than last year, when schools were closed. But the youth cases here have remained low, even though the students spend a lot of time together.

This week, the Juneau Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale Cross Country Team is in the gym getting ready for a big competition on Saturday. Matthias or “Tias” Carney says it’s a big change from last year.

“We ran on our own,” he said.

Last year the whole school was a solo sport.

“A little out of the way and on the computer, staring at the computer screen and on a computer chair all day,” Carney said.

Not his ideal learning format. But he’s in school for his final year.

Juneau has one of the highest youth vaccination rates in the state – only the Yukon-Koyukuk census region is higher. And according to state data, that simply translates to fewer cases of COVID.

“I would say almost all of my friends are vaccinated. And I say in high school, I think almost everyone I know is vaccinated. And I think a lot of that is because if you want to go to school, the more vaccinated you get, the more likely we can stay in school. And of course, play sports with that, ”Carney said.

Bridget Weiss, superintendent of the Juneau School District, said those vaccinated did not need to be quarantined if they were close contacts of a COVID-19 case, keeping many more ‘children in class.

“When we look at cases in our school district. It is really clear where most of the cases are. It is our population of children that cannot yet be vaccinated. So we do whatever it takes with all kinds of mitigation layers, including masks, but it’s the vaccine that makes the difference, ”Weiss said.

She said there are many reasons why so many children are vaccinated in Juneau. The district laid the groundwork for on-campus vaccination clinics even before the 12-18 age group was approved.

And she said another piece of the puzzle is community: Juneau has one of the only city-wide mask mandates in the state. There is also a high rate of adults vaccinated.

“If we see a range of vaccinations in adults, we see it’s kind of amplified in the 12 to 18 age group,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Chief Medical Officer of Alaska. “So the communities that we have that are the least vaccinated, they are less likely to vaccinate their 12-18 year olds compared to those who are vaccinated or have high vaccination rates, they are more likely to vaccinate their 12-18 year olds. years. 18 years old.

Young people tend to cope with COVID-19 infections better than adults. They don’t usually get that sick. However, the long-term effects of a childhood infection with COVID-19 remain to be seen.

And, no child in Alaska has died from the virus.

But Fairbanks pediatrician Mishelle Nace says the Delta variant is still a cause for concern. And there are only two pediatric intensive care units in the state, both in Anchorage.

“We even had to ship kids, you know, from Fairbanks to Anchorage because they needed intensive care. And when you look at the worry on the face of the parent, when you see the child, we have to draw blood from you again, when you see that he has trouble breathing. He’s one child too many, ”said Dr Nace.

Just over 30% of young people are vaccinated in Fairbanks. Dr Nace says that means she’s seeing more children of all ages in the hospital.

“These two people between the ages of 12 and 18 who are eligible but just haven’t been vaccinated. And we are seeing those who are younger, down to infants through the neonatal period, being admitted positive for COVID with concern for the symptoms, ”she said.

Dr Nace is quick to note that while the vaccine is the most effective tool to prevent COVID-19, it is not the only one. Things like masking, staying social, and getting tested are all very important.

Another protection is antibody therapy, which young people over 12 can use if they have recently tested positive or have been in close contact with someone who has.

Back at the Juneau Douglas High School gymnasium, coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said he was relieved that the team was traveling and competing as a group.

“This year we had the opportunity to say, you know what, we’re actually going to go to the same place as the other teams. And now you can see how your performance is helping the great collective to be successful in a race, ”he said.

He says it’s a mix of a high vaccination rate and open risk communication that protects everyone and moves the team forward.

“When you do it together, it’s just… it’s easier. It’s more fun. And yes, you run faster, ”said Knutson-Lombardo.

The team has yet to see any positive cases.

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