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caption: Students at The Center School from left, Oskar, Dakota and Clem, walk toward the observation area after Clem, right, received a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from Seattle Fire Department Captain Melissa Woolsey, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
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Students at The Center School from left, Oskar, Dakota and Clem, walk toward the observation area after Clem, right, received a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine from Seattle Fire Department Captain Melissa Woolsey, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021, at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Misinformation could be behind trailing youth vaccinations in WA

Youth ages 12 to 17 years old are lagging behind when it comes to Covid-19 vaccination rates. According to data from the Washington State Department of Health, the majority of eligible youth are not vaccinated so far.

Here’s what health experts are seeing.

King and San Juan counties stand out, once again, in leading the state in Covid-19 vaccinations.

A total of 61.9% of King County’s youth have initiated vaccination, according to a recent analysis by The Seattle Times, with 68.2% of the San Juan County's youth doing the same.

But just north in Snohomish County, and South in Pierce County, the vaccination rates drop off. And in some places along the Idaho border, like Garfield County, the vaccination rate plummets to 8.6%.

Dr. Douglas Diekema is a pediatrician with UW Medicine. He says some parents are nervous about the vaccine’s safety. Others oppose it. In some cases, parents don't provide their children permission to get vaccinated, even if they want to.

“I understand that concern. But, you know, with this disease, we're playing Russian roulette to some degree,” he said.

He cautions that even in mild cases, some youth could experience long-term impacts like brain fog, a loss of taste or smell, and heart inflammation in rare cases.

The Pfizer vaccine first became available to younger people in May, under emergency authorization. Diekema suspects some families and parents are waiting for the vaccines to get full authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which will likely happen in late summer.

Linda Graves, a community liaison for vaccines outreach and education with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department led two youth forums recently.

"Many [youth] said they were getting misinformation from parents, grandparents and friends. They were told the vaccine is harmful. Some youth wondered why teachers were not having conversations with them," she said in a statement to KUOW.

"They felt some fellow classmates were shaming those who had not chosen to get vaccinated yet."

Graves adds that some other teens though are combatting vaccine hesitancy, creating messages, TikToks, and posters to share with their friends and family.

In Snohomish County, the health district has partnered with local schools to deliver vaccines at a place most families know and trust, making them accessible especially in the evenings after work and on weekends.

Come this fall, masks will be required for students and staff at schools across the state, according to updated guidelines released earlier this week by the department of health.

Governor Jay Inslee also announced a similar measure recommending all people — regardless of vaccination status — return to masking up indoors.