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'Our ICU is full of children with respiratory viruses': Health officials urge routine vaccinations during Immunization Awareness Week

It's Immunization Awareness Week and health officials from DHEC and Prisma health held a press conference to talk about it's importance.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) partnered up with Prisma Health to remind people to stay up to date on routine immunizations as South Carolina Immunization Awareness Week begins.  

Vesha Jamison is the mother of 11-year-old Dreylan Holmes. She said her son is immunocompromised and worried about his health. Jamison spoke at a press conference held by DHEC and Prisma Health on Monday about the importance of proper immunization for all children as some begin the new school year. 

RELATED: Health experts: Fewer childhood vaccines given during pandemic

"So, when I think of my child sitting next to another child at school who is coughing and sneezing, who may not be vaccinated, I think about the risks that it puts him at," Jamison said. "That child might be okay in a couple of days, and that may mean that Dreylan and I get to hang out with the wonderful staff here at PRISMA for weeks on end, and not knowing what the outcome may be."

Other health officials also spoke at the press conference, encouraging the community to make sure they are up to date on all their vaccines, especially younger children who are unable to get the COVID-19 shot. 

RELATED: Pharmacists can give childhood shots in all 50 states, U.S. officials say

Dr. Anna-Kathryn Rye Burch is an infectious Disease Pediatrician at Prisma Health. She said the lack of immunization and with the recent spike in coronavirus cases, the Intensive Care Unit is near capacity everyday. 

"I can tell you from experience here, at the children's hospital, we are at capacity, or near capacity almost everyday," Dr. Burch said. "Our ICU is full of children with respiratory viruses and some of those are COVID. The majority of our teens who have acute COVID illness, over the last two weeks have all been non-immunized against COVID."

RELATED: Health officials report increase in respiratory virus in Southern states, including SC

Dr. Deborah Greenhouse is another pediatrician. Dr. Greenhouse also served as the President for the South Carolina Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said since the pandemic began, there has been a drop in well-visits and pediatric check-ups for children. 

RELATED: Doctors treating more viruses in children as COVID restrictions ease

"If our kids aren’t coming into the pediatrician, and aren’t getting their well visits, and aren’t getting their vaccines and yet, are going back to school, without some of the precautions that were in place last year, we potentially are going to be in a whole lot of trouble and not just with COVID," said Dr. Greenhouse. "We are going to start to see some of these other diseases pop back up."

Director of DHEC, Dr. Edward Simmer, said the state is seeing the most vaccine hesitancy within the younger population, including the 20-26 year old age group. He said it's important to stay well informed with factual information.

Jamison said keeping up with all your shots and vaccines is a selfless act that could save many lives, including loved ones. 

"Today it’s me and my son. Tomorrow, it could be you and your family," Jamison said. "Think of it from the standpoint of, 'how would I want people to treat me? If I were the one who’s immunocompromised, would I want others to protect themselves against something that could potentially take my life for the sake of me and loving me?'"