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Austin Public Health urges parents to get kids vaccinated as pediatric COVID-19 infections rise

APH says it's causing a "domino effect" on staffing in the Austin community.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Public Health reports that COVID-19 infections among children are rising and that in the past two weeks, 91% of the children admitted to our pediatric hospitals were unvaccinated.  

APH said only 26% of children in Austin-Travis County have been fully vaccinated, compared to a vaccination rate of more than 70% in the general population of the city and county.

Austin mom Julie Zweig wasn't taking any chances. Once pediatric vaccinations rolled out she took her 9 and 11-year-olds, Olivia and Eli, to get their shots. 

Several close calls made her happy she made that choice.

"She was exposed to COVID on her first day back to school," said Zweig. "After two years, the first day back, exposed to COVID."

The APH says the rising rate is causing a "domino effect" on strained staffing in Austin health care facilities, schools and businesses. Because more children are getting infected, parents oftentimes must stay home with them and need to stay home longer if there's an infection in their household.

“In the omicron surge we are seeing more pediatric cases than ever before,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, Austin-Travis County health authority. “This spike in pediatric infections and hospitalizations is happening as hospitals operate with an ever-shrinking workforce. We must protect our children and our entire community by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.”  

Zweig is aware of the staffing shortages, which is why she is taking extra preventative measures so her kids don't end up there.

"I just think when we're in the middle of the most contagious, you know, virus to date," said Zweig. "The hospitals, they told us today, they're overrun."

As of Friday, there are 36 children in local hospitals with COVID-19. That's the highest it has been since the pandemic began. Currently, there are six pediatric ICU beds available and staffed in Central Texas. 

Pediatrician Seth Kaplan urges parents to get their children vaccinated. As of now that's the main reason why children are admitted. 

"They may have additional underlying conditions, whether it is severe obesity or whether it is chronic immunosuppressant conditions," said Kaplan. "But, there are still a fair number of children who end up in the hospital, whose only risk factor is that they're not vaccinated."

Health authorities said it's crucial that parents have their children vaccinated and boosted when eligible and have their children wear masks when they're around other people. Children 5 years of age and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, and kids 12 and older may get a booster shot five months after their initial doses.

You can find a vaccine provider by going to vaccines.gov or by texting your zip code to 438829 in English and 822862 in Spanish. You can also get a free vaccine without an appointment at any APH clinic.

Looking at the entire population, hospitalizations are the second-highest on record for the pandemic. As of Jan. 20, there were 771 COVID-19 patients in Austin-area hospitals. Twelve percent of hospital beds are available in the Austin area.

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