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After teen daughter hospitalized with Covid, mom regrets saying no to vaccine

"It's heartbreaking. I wish I would've made better choices for her," said an Arkansas mother of her 13-year-old daughter, hospitalized with Covid-19.
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Angela Morris said she resisted Covid-19 vaccinations for herself and her 13-year-old daughter believing that other preventative measures, like mostly staying home and wearing masks, would be enough to ward off infection.

But on July 1, Morris wrote on Facebook that her daughter, Caia Morris Cooper, had tested positive for Covid. Two days later, she updated her friends that her daughter had been admitted to Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock and was on a ventilator.

"I am so scared right now and I feel so helpless," she posted.

Nearly two weeks later, Caia remained in the hospital, Morris said Friday, and was again intubated after being taken off a ventilator Thursday night.

Her daughter's spiraling condition and the powerlessness that Morris says she feels is echoed in similar situations across Arkansas, where Covid cases are surging, and the country, where young people are still being diagnosed with the coronavirus and requiring hospitalization, even when they're old enough to get vaccinated.

Vaccination rates for children ages 12 to 17 have lagged in the South, including in Arkansas, according to an NBC News analysis, and public health officials say the inability to get more children vaccinated highlights lingering vaccine hesitancy among families at a time when highly transmissible variants are making inroads.

"It's very hard not knowing if she's really going to come home anymore or not," Morris told a CBS affiliate in Little Rock from her daughter's hospital room. "It's heartbreaking. I wish I would've made better choices for her."

Morris could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

Arkansas Children's Hospital told NBC News that it currently has 10 patients who tested positive for Covid at its Little Rock facility and two required ventilators to help with their breathing.

So far this month, all the children who had tested positive for Covid and have since been discharged were unvaccinated, although some were eligible to be inoculated, said Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of the Arkansas Children's Hospital.

She said the hospital expects to see more children admitted as a result of the rapid rise of the highly contagious delta variant. While emergency authorization for Covid vaccines in children under 12 could come in early to midwinter, a federal official said Thursday, vaccines remain available only to people 12 and up, and public health officials are awaiting to see what infection rates will look like once in-person school resumes in the fall.

Covid vaccines have been shown to significantly reduce infections and minimize the risk of severe consequences of the disease, including hospitalization and death.

"Vaccinating eligible tweens, teens and adults as quickly as possible is the best way we can protect Arkansas children from the Covid-19 delta variant," Doderer said in a statement.

Arkansas' overall vaccination rates are among the lowest in the nation, at 35 percent, and the state over the past week has had among the highest number of Covid infections per 100,000 residents, driven by the delta variant.

Morris said she regrets not vaccinating her daughter against Covid when she had the chance.

"I just had a false sense of security that it was just like the flu and it wasn't that serious," she said. "Obviously it is that serious and it was that serious. Now I can see."

It's unclear if Morris, herself, has since gotten vaccinated, but she appeared to no longer be skeptical.

"I just want people to get their kids their shots," she told the local TV station as her daughter lay in a hospital bed with tubes snaking around her. "Everybody just needs to get the shot."