A lower age restriction for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine means a slightly easier path toward Grand Forks County’s herd immunity goal.
Rochelle Walensky, the director for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adopted a recommendation on Wednesday that approves the vaccine for children ages 12-15, effectively lowering the shot’s minimum age restriction by four years. That, according to Grand Forks Public Health staff, means 3,000 more county residents are eligible to get vaccinated and grows the figurative pool of people who are medically able to receive the vaccine to about 59,000 people. Those few thousand teens and pre-teens mean more headroom, so to speak, as the county works toward herd immunity.
“It essentially gives us an additional group of people that might be highly motivated to get vaccinated, to get back to normalcy at school and things of that nature,” Michael Dulitz, Grand Forks Public Health’s primary COVID-19 data analyst, told the Herald. “It kind of broadens the group of people that might be highly likely to get vaccinated.”
As of May 13, the day after the CDC lowered the age restriction, 27,589 Grand Forks County residents had been fully vaccinated. That’s about 66.2% of the 41,671 vaccinations public health workers believe would bring about “herd” immunity here, which is a condition in which it’s statistically difficult for the virus to spread because most of the people to whom it would jump are immune.
Reaching that mark has become increasingly tough here. The rate at which county residents are getting a vaccine has slowed, and Census data and a survey it conducted last month indicate that the number of people who are old enough and willing enough to receive a vaccine is dwindling.
That’s partly why city leaders moved away from a consolidated vaccine effort with Altru Health System. More casual opportunities to get a vaccine, the thinking goes, could convince people who aren’t particularly motivated to get a vaccine or who are, perhaps, on the fence about it in the first place. For younger potential patients, that means making vaccines convenient for their parents, who need to consent to the procedure.
“We need to make it so that a person doesn’t have to put in a lot of extra work to be able to bring their child in for a vaccine,” Haley Bruhn, Grand Forks Public Health’s immunization program manager, said Friday.
At least for the moment, the lower age limit won’t change the city’s vaccination program much, if at all, but health department staff are working on a “community education” strategy about which Bruhn declined to go into detail.
“Educating everybody who’s left,” she said, “or everybody who might have specific questions.”