Kentucky pediatrician urges vaccines and masking to keep children in schools: ‘This is a very worrisome time in pediatrics’

Dr. Lindsay Ragsdale

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News
As coronavirus cases surged across the state in the first days of January, several Kentucky doctors not only urged Kentucky adults to get vaccinated and to wear masks, but also to get their children vaccinated and make sure they are wearing a mask to school.
“This is the way that we can keep school systems in-person: vaccinations and masking. Really, really strongly encourage that,” Dr. Lindsay Ragsdale, interim chief medical officer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, said at a news conference.
“We don’t want to get involved in all of the debates. We just know what science says, which is vaccinations work, masking works and hand washing — it works,” Ragsdale said. “So we’d like to encourage our pediatric patients to continue to do that, and parents can be part of this. So making sure that your child goes to school every day with a mask on, making sure you encourage them to wash their hands and get vaccinated.”
At the same news conference, Dr. Dan Goulson, chief medical officer at CHI Saint Joseph Health, encouraged Kentuckians to stay strong in their commitment to the public health measures that have been proven to work to slow the spread of disease. These include masking, social distancing, hand hygiene, staying home when you are sick, regular testing and avoiding large crowds if at all possible.
“We’re in a situation now where masking is as important as it’s ever been, and vaccination and being boosted is as important as it’s ever been,” he said.
In Kentucky, about one-fifth of coronavirus cases have been in people younger than 20.
Ragsdale said the children’s hospital is starting to get more Covid-19 hospitalizations, and most of their patients are unvaccinated, including their most severe cases.
“So we really do strongly suggest vaccines for kids that are eligible and masks while in school,” she said. “This is  a very worrisome time in pediatrics. We’ve seen other states really have a skyrocket in the number of pediatric patients that are getting infected with Covid and needing hospitalizations, so we’re definitely worried about that. “
An NBC News analysis found that Kentucky is one of at least nine states reporting record numbers of Covid-related hospitalizations of children, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has reported a sharp rise in pediatric Covid-19 patients across the nation.
“Covid-19 cases among U.S. children have reached the highest case count ever reported since the start of the pandemic,” the report said. “For the week ending December 30th, over 325,000 child Covid-19 cases were reported. This number is a 64% increase over the 199,000 added cases reported the week ending December 23rd and an almost doubling of case counts from the two weeks prior.”
Ragsdale encouraged parents who are on the fence about getting their children vaccinated to get off the fence.
“We have seen really sick kids in our children’s hospital,” she said. “Kids needing ventilation and ECMO or bypass.” ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and is used to oxygenate a patient’s blood outside the body to allow the heart and lungs to rest.
“This can be very severe. So the idea that this doesn’t affect children is not true any longer. We really want to take this seriously. . . . Masking, handwashing and vaccines for kids are the way that we can keep them out of the hospital.”
This urgent plea to get kids vaccinated and to wear masks comes as schools across Kentucky re-open to in-person learning and many of them with “masks optional” policies, despite Kentucky’s record high numbers of Covid-19 cases and positive test rates.
“They’ve got to wear these masks,” Health Commissioner Steven Stack said Jan. 3. “I’m telling you, if you open a school this week, and you’re not requiring masks, you’re gonna infect the whole building in the first two weeks. I mean, it’s gonna happen that fast.”

Fewer than half of 12-to-17-year-olds and only 17% of 5-to-11-year-olds have received a Covid-19 vaccine, so most of Kentucky’s school-age children aren’t protected from the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Ragsdale said she worries about low vaccination rates. “We really are concerned that we have kids that are coming back to school,” she said. “Omicron is highly contagious and we want to protect the kids of Kentucky the best we can and the ways that we know how to do that is masking, hand washing and vaccinations.”
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