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Thomas D. Elias: The urgent need to vaccinate more youths

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There is a general sense in California’s populace that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over, that masking rules and vaccination passports are no longer necessary.

For anyone who believes this, a brief visit to the COVID-19 intensive care unit at any major hospital in the state would be instructive.

For each room or space available in most ICUs, there is at least one occupant, with more waiting. The patients here are not merely intubated for breathing by ventilators, but also are attached to tubes for excretions of various kinds.

“Almost every one of the people we see here has not been vaccinated,” said an ICU nurse at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center the other day. “Almost all of them will die, and it will be their own fault.”

That nurse was not officially permitted to speak, nor did her words reflect an official scientific finding, but she spoke unvarnished truth:

Right now, almost any adult who becomes seriously ill with COVID can look in a mirror (if there is one in their ICU space) and see who’s at fault.

Meanwhile, the average age of COVID victims keeps dropping. Partly that’s driven by the fact that elderly nursing home residents – once hit harder than any other group by the virus – were among the first to be vaccinated and then were on the early list for booster shots.

There’s also the fact that this plague, once thought of as primarily a disease of old age, has seen its case loads grow ever younger as the last year went by. Partly, that was because authorization for teenagers and children to get vaccinated arrived later than adult approval.

Which demonstrates how important vaccinations are and how far off base are the many parents who keep telling pollsters that vaccination requirements for school attendance are infringements on their right to say what medications their children can get.

That’s essentially the same cry anti-vaxxers have used for decades to resist requirements conditioning school attendance on receipt of vaccines for diseases like rubella, whooping cough and mumps.

Deaths from COVID now far outstrip fatalities from those other maladies, but the outcry against school COVID vaccine mandates is louder and more persistent than resistance to the other inoculations.

Recent polling on this issue, which helped shape November gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey, comes from the Zogby Strategies firm, which often polls on politics. A plurality of 48 percent of parents in Zogby’s new national survey say they should decide if their kids get vaccinated, whereas only 42 percent would leave that call to public health officials.

So parents, most with little medical education, believe they know more than certified experts.

At the same time, complaints are arising around California that school vaccine mandates are reinforcing old patterns of racial inequity in education. One study of San Francisco Bay Area schools shows the vaccination rate among teenage Black students in public schools varies from county to county, from about 44 percent to 65 percent. The region’s Latino students have about a 68 percent vaxx rate. By contrast, white and Asian-American teens across that region are now vaccinated at rates of 95 percent and 74 percent respectively.

This means far more Black and Latino students are blocked from in-person school attendance than whites or Asian-Americans. Despite a new law requiring schools to provide equal quality education online to what goes on in classrooms, every study of this issue shows in-person teaching is far more effective.

So, yes, longstanding educational inequities are being perpetuated. But who is at fault? If almost all white and Asian-descended youths could get their arms jabbed at least once in schools, drugstores or other venues, what was stopping the other groups? Answer: Resistance to vaccination, which can be seen in the vast differences in adult vaccination rates between the same groups.

Parents reluctant to get themselves vaccinated are not nearly as likely to have their children inoculated as those who are themselves vaccinated.

So it’s time to stop blaming others for the inconveniences, injustices and mandates caused by the pandemic. For in most cases, just as in the ICUs, the real perpetrator of those problems can be found in the mirror.

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Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column. He is author of the book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It.” Readers may reach him at tdelias@aol.com.

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