DHEC urges families get kids vaccinated against COVID with new school year approaching

Published: Jul. 27, 2022 at 8:55 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is urging families to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 before they return to the classroom.

The message comes as South Carolina is experiencing another summertime increase in cases, which have been steadily rising for the last few months, though reported case numbers still remain significantly lower than the peak over the last winter.

“To prevent this increase that we’re seeing currently in cases from becoming an unwanted, longer trend, we need to continue to increase our vaccination rate in the state, especially among children,” DHEC Public Health Director Dr. Brannon Traxler said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Going into this summer, state health leaders had said they were worried because of how low South Carolina’s pediatric vaccination rate was.

That rate has not changed that much since then, as statewide data shows fewer than one in five kids ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated at this point in South Carolina.

Traxler said upping those numbers will help reduce classroom disruptions this year.

“We know the toll that COVID-19 has taken the classroom over the last two years, from virtual learning to constantly being in and out of the classroom due to cases and close contacts, our students and teachers have been significantly impacted by COVID-19,” Traxler said.

All but a handful of South Carolina’s 46 counties are currently experiencing high community transmission, according to the CDC, the point at which the federal health agency recommends people wear a mask indoors in public.

But as the new school year gets started soon, DHEC’s approach this year is to let schools make what they think is the best decision on masking for their students and staff, Traxler said.

“But I will tell you that certainly when we’re in high levels of community, high community levels, in those counties, I recommend that when people are indoors and in groups and in crowds, that they wear a mask regardless of what that setting is,” she added.

DHEC reports the weekly average of COVID cases is up nearly 30% over the previous month, while the weekly average of COVID hospitalizations has risen 44% in that time.

But Traxler said numbers of ICU admissions and patients on ventilators have not gone up as much, nor have deaths.

“So that tells me that even though there are some more people getting hospitalized these days for COVID-19, they are not maybe as sick as we saw with previous rounds,” she said.

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