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Should you get the COVID booster? It could prevent millions of days missed in school and thousands of hospitalizations for kids

November 16, 2022, 3:20 PM UTC
Covid Booster-Missed school days
Last month, the FDA expanded emergency authorization of the bivalent booster to those as young as 5.
Michael Nagle—Bloomberg via Getty Images

New research predicts that higher rates of those 5 and older getting the bivalent booster shot could prevent millions of missed school days and thousands of hospitalizations for kids and teens. While many young people are spared from severe COVID infections, some require hospitalization and intensive care. Others who don’t have complications have to miss school when infected and risk falling behind, further worsening the nation’s caregiving crisis with parents who are stuck between caring and work. 

A new analysis published Tuesday from the Commonwealth Fund and the Yale School of Public Health looked at the effect booster vaccination campaigns could have on youth hospitalizations, the number of days of isolation, and school absenteeism.  

The researchers found that if 80% of people 5 and older got their booster shot by the end of the calendar year, over 46 million days of isolation, nearly 29 million days of missed school, and over 50,000 hospitalizations could be prevented for youth. If booster rates matched the total flu vaccine rate from 2020 to 2021 by the end of the year, which was between 50% and 60%, the nation’s youth could avoid over 36 million isolation days, over 22 million absentee days, and over 38,000 hospitalizations. 

However, recent CDC data is nowhere near the study’s estimates; only about 10% of those age 5 and older have the bivalent booster. 

“Getting yourself or your child boosted, if they are over 5 years old, can help protect them from hospitalization this winter and keep them from missing school for long periods of time,” says Arnav Shah, an author of the study and senior research associate for policy and research at the Commonwealth Fund. 

Last month, the Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of the bivalent booster shot, which specifically targets the Omicron variant, for those as young as 5. With the surge of RSV, flu, and COVID cases as the holidays approach, vaccination remains the best way people, including children, can stay healthy, prevent severe illness, and limit the spread of the virus, experts say. 

“While it’s true that most children do have mild illness from COVID…we want to prevent those long-term symptoms. We want to prevent severe illness. We want to prevent additional people from dying from this illness,” Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatrician and founder of Kidcrew Medical, a clinic focused on health care for children and their families, previously told Fortune

Missing school can push kids further behind, affecting academic performance and the chance to bolster social connections with others, Shah says. 

“School absenteeism is disruptive to students, families, and society overall. For families, school absenteeism can impose productivity losses and economic burden, with adult caregivers needing to stay home from work,” the authors’ analysis reads. “Vaccination can help maintain in-person learning and prevent infection from spreading through the classroom.”

The analysis expands on previous research that found successful vaccine campaigns could help prevent severe disease and death from COVID-19 in all ages, to include youth booster coverage and absenteeism from school. 

The predictions come from a simulated model accounting for vaccine efficacy and standard isolation procedures through March of 2023. The study took into account people’s waning immunity, although it didn’t factor in the rise of a new variant, which the authors say could “underestimate” the impact bivalent boosters could have on decreasing the number of school absenteeism, isolation days, and hospitalizations. 

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