SALT LAKE CITY — Utah doctors say Monday’s announcement that U.S. regulators have authorized the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12 will greatly boost Utah’s efforts to battle COVID-19.
“There are approximately 215,000 Utah children in this age group and expanding vaccine access to them will push us even closer to the finish line in our battle against COVID-19,” Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, said in a statement.
“Data presented by Pfizer indicates its vaccine is highly effective at preventing COVID-19 in this age group. In fact, none of the clinical trial participants who received the vaccine ever became infected with COVID-19.”
Those shots could begin as early as this week pending more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Utah’s number of COVID-19 cases increased by 207 on Monday, with one more death and 8,832 vaccinations reported, according to the state health department.
Opening up the eligibility to those 12 and older is an important milestone, said Dr. Andrew Pavia, chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at the University of Utah and director of Epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital.
“This can be really important for getting the amount of vaccination in the community up to a level where we can really break the back of this pandemic. As you’ve noticed, we really haven’t made a lot of progress in the last two to three months in Utah — we’re stuck in this plateau of, you know, close to 400 cases a day. And I think that expanding the pool of people vaccinated is really the kind of thing we need to see to sort of accelerate the race between vaccines and the virus so that we are winning, and the virus is losing,” Pavia said.
He also noted the higher the rates of vaccination among students 12 and older increases the likelihood of minimal outbreaks within the school year and lessens a need for testing.
“In my perfect world, every high school student would be vaccinated, and then high school would look exactly like it did before the pandemic. It’s going to take a lot of work to get there, but that would be the best thing that we could do for teachers and students,” Pavia said.
Although the Food and Drug Administration gave approval Monday for emergency authorization for the vaccine, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice at the CDC is expected to give approval for the vaccine on Wednesday. With that committee’s approval will come recommendations and information for doctors regarding dosing and potential side effects.
Pavia said that once the committee recommends the use, likely Wednesday, he thinks those who are newly eligible could begin receiving the vaccine.
The doctor on Monday also referenced Utah Gov. Spencer Cox saying that the next important phase is to transition from big vaccination programs into the usual places for vaccine distribution, such as pediatrician and family doctor offices or pharmacies. Pavia added that it’s important to emphasize vaccine outreach in places like a church or a synagogue.
“You’re going to see over the next two to four weeks, a real change in where the vaccine is available so that it’s more convenient, that it’s more in the places that people trust, and it’s one of the places that you’re used to getting vaccinated,” Pavia said.
Regarding vaccine hesitancy, Pavia said that due to more than 200 million Americans receiving the vaccine there’s been active surveillance about potential side effects that are allowing for a “rich amount of data on safety and efficacy.”
The health department estimates there are now 7,918 active cases of COVID-19 in Utah. The rolling seven-day average number of positive cases per day is now at 333, according to the health department. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the “people over people” method is now 6.5%. The positive test rate per day for that time period calculated with the “test over test” method is now 3.5%.
There are 142 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized in Utah, including 61 in intensive care units, state data shows. About 66% of all ICU hospital beds in Utah were occupied Monday, including about 68% of ICU beds in the state’s 16 referral hospitals, according to the health department. About 51% of non-ICU hospital beds are now occupied in the state.
A total of 2,315,869 vaccine doses have been administered in Utah, up from 2,307,037 Sunday. Health department data shows 1,359,120 Utahns have now received at least a first vaccine dose, and 1,054,451 are now considered fully vaccinated. A total of 2,735,943 vaccine doses have been shipped to Utah so far.
With Monday’s update, 42.4% of Utah’s total population now has at least a first vaccine dose, and 32.9% is fully vaccinated, according to the health department. Among Utahns age 16 and older who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine, 57.1% have received at least one dose and 44.3% are fully vaccinated.
Monday’s new numbers indicate a 0.05% increase in positive cases since Sunday. Of the 2,605,967 people tested for COVID-19 in Utah so far, 15.4% have tested positive for the disease. The number of total tests conducted since Utah’s pandemic began is now at 4,742,174, up 3,942 since Sunday. Of those, 2,416 were tests of people who hadn’t previously been tested for COVID-19, according to the health department.
The death reported Monday was a Davis County man who was between the ages of 25 and 44 and was hospitalized when he died.
Monday’s totals give Utah 400,559 total confirmed cases, with 16,381 total hospitalizations and 2,225 total deaths from the disease. An estimated 390,416 Utah COVID-19 cases are now considered recovered, according to the health department.