As more cases pop up in classes, Alaska health officials urge vaccines for students 12 and older

5th grade students at Nunaka Valley Elementary in Anchorage work on a morning activity on August 17, 2021. (Matthew Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Kids are back in school, and districts throughout the state are busy responding to COVID-19 outbreaks and, in some cases, closing schools due to the spread of the virus. 

The Anchorage School District has reported more than 500 infections since the school year began in mid-August, and many parents are on edge about the possibility of exposure. 

On Talk of Alaska Tuesday, Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist and member of the state’s COVID response team, said children overall continue to experience milder symptoms from COVID-19 and lower hospitalization rates than adults. But he emphasized that anyone age 12 and up should get vaccinated.

“It’s important to remember, this virus is taking a toll on all of us and the easiest way out of it is to get as many of us as possible vaccinated,” Cutchins said.

RELATED: Alaska children make up growing percent of state’s coronavirus cases

Anchorage area pediatrician Dr. Michelle Laufer said on the show that she’s seen an increase in the number of children getting sick with COVID-19 over the course of the summer. That’s due, in part, to the highly contagious delta variant. 

Even though children are less likely to end up in the hospital from the virus, she said, they’re still at risk of suffering long-term consequences from getting sick.

“Including the myocarditis which sometimes limits sports activities for competitive athletes,” Laufer said. “And then the long COVID, which we’ve been hearing about in adults and almost, in kids, looks like a post-concussive syndrome.”

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Laufer said she’s had more encounters with parents opposed to vaccination than ever before. But she continues to advocate for vaccinating children who are eligible because, she said, it’s the best defense available against COVID-19 and its potential impacts. 

Clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12 are still in progress. Laufer said she’s hoping younger kids will be able to get vaccinated at some point this winter. 

“So I just tell parents to hold on and do all the other measures that we can to keep our kids safe, including masking in public and at school and avoiding high-risk situations,” she said.

The social isolation of the past year will also likely have long-term effects for many children, Laufer said, so making sure they return to school safely should be a high priority for parents. 

RELATED: Record COVID-19 hospitalizations strain Alaska health system

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