The average age of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Michigan has been dropping as the total number of people hospitalized with the disease rises, health officials said Thursday.
Two-thirds of people hospitalized at Munson Healthcare, a network of hospitals and clinics across Northern Michigan, were under 65 years old, said the organization’s chief medical officer, Christine Nefcy.
Nefcy said a high vaccination rate among the oldest members of the population was protecting them from the disease. But younger age groups, where vaccination rates are lower, were much more susceptible to the virus.
“We have a much more contagious variant, and then a completely vulnerable population,” Nefcy said.
The B.1.1.7 variant of the novel coronavirus, which was first detected in the United Kingdom, is now the dominant strain in the U.S., the federal Centers for Disease Control has said, and it’s growing increasingly prevalent in Michigan.
But school-age populations only recently became eligible for vaccination in the state -- just 0.9% of Michiganders between 16 and 19 years old are fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures.
So the state is enlisting the help of young “vaccine ambassadors” to encourage their peers to get the shots.
Lauren Stallman, a 16-year-old student at Traverse City Central High School, said she got the vaccine so she could spend time with her grandparents and help her school get back to normal in-person activities.
Evan Carlson, an 18-year-old senior at Alpena High School, said young people are subject to the same forces that have made older adults distrust vaccines.
“What drives vaccine hesitancy in Northeast Michigan is specifically conspiracy theories and misinformation that people take as fact,” Carlson said.
The state is tracking hundreds of ongoing outbreaks in Michigan schools. Fifty new outbreaks were reported in schools last week.