As young people go unvaccinated, they’re putting vaccinated people at higher risk, says virologist

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LA County is now reporting some 10,000 new COVID-19 cases per week,  and over the weekend, Angelenos had to restart wearing masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. Roughly 53% of LA County is fully vaccinated. But with the Delta variant rapidly spreading and case numbers and hospitalization rates rising, it’s young people, ages 18-29, that are being hit the hardest. 

Pediatrician Dr. Leila Bozorgnia tells KCRW, “I've heard something like [the Delta variant is] four or five times more contagious than the Alpha variant. And so it's very easy to catch. And we are getting our adolescents and teenagers vaccinated, but I still think that there's a considerable subset of that population that is still perhaps holding off or waiting.”

When it comes to the vaccine-ineligible 12 and under age group, USC virologist and immunologist Paula Cannon says children don’t get as seriously ill as older individuals. But she adds, “As more people over 12, and especially over 18, are getting vaccinated … children are going to make up an increasingly greater share of the unvaccinated population. And then that combined with the fact that we've now got this Delta variant … increase[s] the impact of COVID infection on this younger population.”

The University of California system is mandating vaccines for students on all of its campuses for the upcoming school year, and Cannon says this may incentivize some to get vaccinated, but that’s only a portion of the unvaccinated population.

“What we're seeing right now ... it means that even vaccinated people are more at risk because we are being exposed to COVID-infected people in our daily lives, and the vaccines are not 100% protective,” Cannon says. “If you are still not vaccinated, then you are part of the problem and this current wave is on you.”

She continues, “If you're a vaccinated person, and you have the misfortune to then become infected, you'll have everything from no symptoms to sort of mild symptoms. But what we do know is you won't end up in [a] hospital, and you're not going to die. So I feel like that's a pretty decent incentive to get vaccinated."