Vaccinating 16- and 17-year-olds will play huge role in race against variants

MADISON, Wis. — Many doctors have said we’re in a race to get as many people vaccinated as possible before the coronavirus variants spread even more.

The CDC has identified five variants that are more contagious than the original virus. All five of those variants have been found in Wisconsin.

The UK variant is spreading especially fast among kids. Last week, Public Health Madison and Dane County identified an outbreak at a daycare center.

“I get the feeling that a lot of kids really want to get this vaccine and really want to get back to as normal of a school situation as possible,” said Dr. William Hartman with UW Health.

His 16 and 17-year-old sons wanted the vaccine so bad, they were willing to wait in line for hours on Sunday.

“Today, they think they’re on the path to getting back to a normal life, which is what we want for them,” said Hartman.

High schoolers like Dr. Hartman’s sons will play a huge role in the race against the variants.

“Proms are coming up, graduations, vaccinating this age group is very important so that we can stay ahead of the variant as much as possible,” said Hartman. “The schools are doing a great job in their reopening and they’re trying their hardest to keep kids distanced as much as possible when distancing is possible, but kids like to be around other kids. And it’s our job as adults to really put them in the best situation possible.”

There are concerns high school sports could create more opportunities for outbreaks.

Even though kids age 15 and younger aren’t able to get a vaccine right now, getting older teens vaccinated is a big step toward getting back to normal.

About 25% of our population is under 18 years old. To get close to the 80-85% we need vaccinated for herd immunity, many 16 and 17-year-olds will need to be vaccinated.

“They have to want to be part of the solution. They have to understand what these vaccines are, that they’re safe,” said Hartman. “As long as the kids are neglected from the vaccine and we don’t vaccinate them, there’s still a significant portion of our population that is a potential spreader of the virus.”

It’s a little more difficult for 16 and 17-year-olds to find vaccine appointments because Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for them. Many vaccinators, including Public Health Madison and Dane County, have been getting big Johnson & Johnson shipments lately.

Hartman said for teens who want a shot, they just have to be persistent and keep looking for appointments.