CDC urges adolescents to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as hospitalizations rise

The head of the CDC is urging adolescents to get vaccinated. As Mola Lenghi reports, the agency put out an alarming report revealing a spike in hospitalizations among kids ages 12-17. Then, immunotherapy scientists Dr. Leo Nissola joins CBSN's Lana Zak with his analysis.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: Now to the coronavirus pandemic. The head of the CDC is urging adolescents to get vaccinated. The agency put out a new report Friday revealing a spike in hospitalizations among children aged 12 to 17. The overall pace of shots around the country is also falling. So far, just over 41% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Mola Lenghi reports from New York City.

MOLA LENGHI: Tonight, the CDC's stark warning.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY: It is these findings that demonstrates the level of severe disease, even among youth, that are preventable.

MOLA LENGHI: Before most were eligible for the vaccine, many teens who got COVID and had to go to the hospital wound up in intensive care, nearly one third of them, and nearly 5% were put on respirators. Today, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said she is "deeply concerned by the numbers of hospitalized adolescents. Much of this suffering can be prevented." Only about a quarter of kids aged 12 to 17 have gotten at least one dose. Dr. Paul Offit says we have to do better.

Are children getting vaccinated at acceptable enough rates?

PAUL OFFIT: No.

MOLA LENGHI: One big obstacle-- convincing some parents the vaccine is safe long term, especially for girls.

And I know there's some misinformation that is causing some hesitancy with regards to fertility in young women.

PAUL OFFIT: Unfortunately, misinformation plays a big role in this. There are many women of childbearing age who are saying, look, this vaccine is not for me. I don't want it to affect my ability to have babies. It's a false notion. But you know, once you've raised that question, once you scare people, it's hard to unscare them.

MOLA LENGHI: Today, there was a pre-summer vaccination party at a Bronx, New York, public school, one of the pop-up sites making it easier for kids to get their shots.

- OK.

MOLA LENGHI: A game of rock, paper, scissors between kids and their parents determined who went first.

- I'm scared about the coronavirus, but not about the vaccine.

- It's nice to get the vaccination just to be safe.

MOLA LENGHI: Well here in New York, the COVID positivity rate has been declining for 60 days straight, and because of that, unvaccinated students and staff will no longer have to wear masks inside of schools and indoor facilities at summer camps beginning Monday. Lana.

LANA ZAK: Monday. All right, Mola, thank you. Immunotherapy scientist Dr. Leo Nissola joins me now to discuss this further. So according to the new CDC report, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations among adolescents was up to three times greater than those linked to the flu. It also found that healthy adolescents with no underlying conditions were at risk of severe disease. What do you make of these findings?

LEO NISSOLA: Those are very scary numbers. I think we're dealing with two problems here. Number one, the acute problem of having adolescents and children being hospitalized for COVID-19. And the second problem is the number of adolescents and children in the US that are with chronic conditions that facilitate the need for more thorough medical service like hospitalizations and ventilators.

So the concern here is that 14 million American kids, children and adolescents, are obese that contribute to heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other chronic conditions that will likely impair their health outcomes. So while we are trying to get kids vaccinated as soon as possible, we also should be looking at preventing those conditions from arising. You see when you compare the United States children's health with other developing countries, you would see there the stark difference between our rates of obesity and chronic conditions in children, which will lead to those outcomes that you are seeing.

LANA ZAK: Hmm. Well, as you heard in Mola's reporting there, the pace of coronavirus vaccinations is also raising some red flags, in addition to some of those underlying issues that-- that we have in our health care here in the United States. Daily shots over the last several days have fallen below 1 million, and only about 24% of adolescents have gotten their first dose. How much does this concern you? And what is the key to getting those numbers up?

LEO NISSOLA: I think it's very concerning. You see, we observe from home the rest of the world begging for vaccine vials, the rest of the world losing people, thousands every day, and still not having the access that they deserve, whereas we here have the opportunity. Folks here have the opportunity to get vaccinated. And there isn't much reasoning behind not getting the vaccine and not getting these shots or making it available for children at home today and adolescents.

Now, some other countries have a more different approach to vaccination in kids, and they offer vaccines in schools. They offer vaccines in colleges. And perhaps that's a venue that we should be thinking about. While we are moving away from, in some states, the need for vaccine passports, perhaps schools can have a more influence into educating parents around the benefits of the vaccine and safe to keeping of kids at home.

LANA ZAK: You know, it's interesting, Dr. Nissola, that you mention trying to have schools and colleges play a greater role when the CDC just released new guidelines for colleges. Schools can resume in-person learning at full capacity and without restrictions only if all students, faculty, and staff are fully vaccinated. What might this mean for colleges and universities where not everyone has gotten their shots?

LEO NISSOLA: I think it's one more reason for folks to get in line, get the vaccine, and let's move away from this terrible pandemic that has affected us all. There's one way out of this pandemic that is sure, that we know about, that is science based, and that is getting a vaccine, getting immunized.

And I think if you're a college student, if you're a grad student, if you are in university, you should follow the signs. You should get your shot. And you should try to continue to protect those around you who not only may not have-- have had access to the vaccine, but perhaps were not able to produce antibodies, like some people living with cancer or other immunocompromised diseases.

LANA ZAK: All right, Dr. Leo Nissola, thank you for joining me, once again, and thank you for all that you do.

LEO NISSOLA: Thank you.