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7 children battling COVID-19 in ICUs in Mississippi, state with lowest vaccination rate

7 Mississippi children in COVID ICU
7 children battling COVID-19 in ICU in Mississippi 02:53

The nationwide average of new daily coronavirus cases doubled in the last three weeks, with the South hit especially hard, according to Johns Hopkins University. In Mississippi, the large majority of the people hospitalized are unvaccinated

The state has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, with roughly a third of the population fully vaccinated. Now that's putting children at risk, doctors say. 

Across the state, seven children are now hospitalized with COVID-19, fighting the dangerous virus in intensive care units. Two are on ventilators.

"What we're hearing is this is a mix of kids with underlying conditions and then some that were previously healthy," said Dr. Jennifer Bryan, chairman of the board of trustees at Mississippi's State Medical Association. 

Bryan told CBS News' Omar Villafranca that children are more at risk when vaccination rates are low.

"In this phase of the pandemic there's really two life choices: it's to vaccinate, or you're going to get COVID. It is that contagious of a virus," she said.

In Tennessee, the state's top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, said she was fired this week after suggesting some teenagers could get vaccinated without parental consent.

"This Delta variant is beginning to bear down on us that we know is more infectious and infects children more significantly," Fiscus said.

Meanwhile, the Tennessean said it obtained emails and an internal report from the state's health department that claim it will stop vaccine outreach to minors for all diseases — not just COVID-19 — amid pressure from Republican lawmakers.

In a statement to CBS News, the Tennessee Department of Health said, "We have in no way shuttered the immunizations for children program. We are simply mindful of how certain tactics could hurt that progress."

But as kids get ready to return to classrooms in a few weeks, Fiscus said she is worried the risk of COVID-19 will only get worse.

"They're going to go back into schools with no mask mandates," she said. "And no protection from a vaccination."

Back in Mississippi, Dr. Leah Smith, a health ministry leader at a local church, said the most stubborn age demographic when it comes to getting the vaccine is young people. She told Villafranca she thinks that the recent spike in children heading to the ICU will serve as a wake-up call for anyone who doubts the virus can affect children.

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