Health experts worry about low vaccination rates in children as omicron variant spreads ::

— Health experts are closely monitoring the omicron variant’s impact on children after new information indicates they are at risk.

Data from South Africa reported about 10 percent of those hospitalized with the variant there were ages 2 or younger.

On Tuesday, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said only 45 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in North Carolina have received at least one dose of vaccine against coronavirus. Meanwhile, only 13 percent of children ages 5 to 11 have received a dose.

Health experts worry about low vaccination rates in children as omicron variant spreads ::

“It is concerning that fewer younger North Carolinians are getting the COVID vaccine,” Cohen said during a briefing on the pandemic.

Lisa Davidson, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Cornerstone Pediatric in Cary, works with vaccination data. She said vaccinating her own son wasn’t even a question.

“I work in the scientific field, so I understand the mechanisms of it and feel like they’re really important to keep everyone healthy and make sure we have some quality of life,” explained Davidson.

Her 11-year-old son, Adam, said that, while he enjoys being inside playing games like other sixth-graders, he also likes getting out of the house.

“Most of my friends that I know of are getting vaccinated,” he said. “I thought it was a pretty good idea. I mean, I feel safer just going anywhere with the vaccine.”

Although the omicron variant hasn’t been detected in the United States yet, health experts said vaccinating the unvaccinated, including children, is top of mind.

“I do feel strongly that you need to understand that it doesn’t really hurt, and my child is fine. He had no side effects whatsoever,” said Davidson.

Health experts said they’re working to educate parents on the fence about getting their children vaccinated.

“There is also the notion that pediatric patients aren’t getting as sick, and some may be relying on that fact alone,” said Dr. Shefali Parmar, a pediatrician at Cornerstone Pediatrics. “We’re finding that the data shows this vaccine is 100 percent effective in preventing severe illness, death and hospitalization in this age group. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Parmar said she and her colleagues had their children vaccinated, and that sends a message: Trust the science and protect your child.

“It’s the best option. Even if somebody feels bad for 24 hours, I think that’s still better than the alternative,” added Davidson.