US ramps up youth COVID-19 vaccinations as school year kicks off

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Half of children aged 12 to 17 have received at least their first vaccination dose against COVID-19, and that age group has the fastest growth rate in vaccinations, the White House said on Friday.

The announcement comes as children across the United States begin a new school year and vaccinations in general are at an eight-week high, with 1.1 million doses on Thursday which was the highest single-day total of vaccinations since July 3.

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“We have now hit a major milestone in our effort to vaccinate adolescents, 50 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds now have at least their first shot,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters.

“And in fact, the vaccination rate among adolescents is growing faster than any other age group,” he added.

While symptomatic and severe cases in children remain less common than in other age groups, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said pediatric cases and hospitalizations have increased over the past few weeks, likely resulting from an overall increase in community transmissions and the Delta variant.

The CDC this week released tool kits to help schools conduct screening and testing, Walensky said, but many schools have opted not to implement the recommendations.

“I want to strongly appeal to those districts who have not implemented prevention strategies and encourage them to do the right thing to protect the children under their care,” she said.

“This is not forever. This is for now.”

The United States leads the world in reported COVID-19 cases and deaths. Daily cases soared from fewer than 10,000 in early July to over 150,000 in August as the Delta variant took hold, with hospitalizations and deaths rising particularly in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and other parts of the US South.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases was up by about 3 percent at about 142,000, said Walensky, and the seven-day average of COVID-related deaths was up 11 percent at 864. The seven-day average of hospitalizations is up 6 percent at about 12,000.

Still, there is continued momentum in the United States for stronger vaccination requirements from employers, Zients said, adding that President Joe Biden’s administration would keep pushing for vaccination requirements.

Nearly 50 colleges and universities adopted vaccination mandates this week, Zients said, bringing the total to 800.

“We can’t and we won’t let up, and we need everyone to get the job done,” said Zients. “So if you’re an American who is not yet vaccinated, or if you’re an employer who has yet to adopt vaccination requirements, we have a very simple message: Get off the sidelines, step up and do your part.”

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