Children ages 12 and older are now eligible to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in all Altru's primary care clinics starting Tuesday, May 11.

Children younger than 18 must have consent from a parent or legal guardian to receive a vaccination, according to an Altru release, and all parents in the community are urged to have a conversation with their children about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Having our young people immunized against COVID-19 brings back all that’s good,” Altru pediatrician Dr. Joe Shelton said in a statement. “Altru’s providers are here to answer any questions you have about the vaccine. We want to help our community get vaccinated.”

Previously, only children ages 16 and older were eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now expanded the emergency use authorization for the vaccine for children ages 12 through 15, the release states.

"In pediatrics, we take care of a lot of children with complex medical diseases,” Altru pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Peterson said. “The COVID-19 vaccine will reduce a child’s risk for severe illness and hospitalization. We have some very happy patients and families who have been looking forward to a COVID vaccine for children that is both safe and effective."

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Grand Forks Public Health COVID-19 data analytics leader Michael Dulitz estimates there are about 3,000 12 to 15-year-olds in Grand Forks County, pushing the vaccine-eligible population in the county to just over 59,000.

As of Monday, May 10, 26,851 people in Grand Forks County have received at least one COVID-19 dose, or about 38.7% of the county's total population. Grand Forks Public Health workers estimate that roughly 60% of the county's population must be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity.

While 12 to 15-year-olds make up a relatively small group of people within the county, Dulitz noted that they tend to have higher vaccination rates than the general population. About 39% of local 16 to 18-year-olds have received a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 47% of the 18 and older population, despite not having been specifically targeted and having the vaccine available to them for a shorter amount of time.

"It does give people a lot more opportunity to help get their kids protected against COVID right now, and that'll help," Dulitz said. "The more people we can get vaccinated, the less we're going to need your blanket public health measures to try and mitigate the virus."

To schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment, call Altru's COVID hotline at 701-780-6358 or use MyChart.Altru.org and select "scheduling an appointment for COVID vaccine."