As Colorado begins to administer the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to children aged 12 to 15 following an expanded emergency-use authorization from the federal government last week, state officials are emphasizing that while COVID-19 has hit older Americans hardest, the risks to children are real.
“It’s important to remember that some children and adolescents can get very sick,” Dr. Suchitra Rao, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado, said at a press conference alongside Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday. “There have been several hundred deaths reported nationally from COVID-19 infection in children.”
Polis said that 11% of Coloradans aged 12 to 15 received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in the first week after the authorization. State health officials are urging all Coloradans over aged 12 to get a vaccine as soon as possible to help combat a “fourth wave” of infections that is mostly impacting younger Coloradans, who have less protection against the virus because of lower vaccination rates.
“This fourth wave has been much easier on our adult population,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy. “But in contrast … we’re continuing to see high hospitalization rates among our pediatric population.”
While over two-thirds of Coloradans over age 30 have received at least one vaccine dose, for Coloradans aged 16 to 29 that figure is only 44%, Polis said.
“That’s the reason we’re seeing more young people in our hospitals, because less are vaccinated,” Polis said.
For adults, meanwhile Polis said that with vaccine supplies now exceeding demand in many places, Colorado’s vaccination “sprint” has become a “marathon,” with the focus shifting towards people who are hesitant or have otherwise been delayed in seeking a vaccine.
New state guidance issued Thursday will allow providers to keep doses for up to two weeks, up from the previous limit of 72 hours, and to vaccinate individuals even if it means using only a single dose from a vial that may contain five or six doses. Polis said the change will make a difference especially in small health clinics in rural and underserved areas.
“We want to miss no opportunities to vaccinate somebody, even if it means puncturing a multi-dose vial to administer a vaccine without having people lined up to receive each dose,” said Polis. “Our supply level now allows that.”
Polis said that while the coronavirus pandemic is “essentially over” for the 2.3 million Coloradans who’ve been fully vaccinated, the ongoing risk to children can’t be ignored.
“Until there’s a vaccine approved for all ages, victory can’t be declared,” he said. “The pandemic is still all too real for the many Coloradans who are not yet fully protected.”
State officials are encouraging parents and providers to administer the COVID-19 vaccine alongside regularly-scheduled pediatric inoculations for measles and other diseases. With Colorado’s childhood vaccination rates among the lowest in the nation, they also warned against the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation.
“Unfortunately, misinformation and myths can spread more easily than the facts,” said Rao. “So I’d recommend that families turn to their trusted sources of information, pediatricians as well as other primary care providers, who know a lot about how vaccines work, and about vaccine safety.”
“This is really exciting news,” she added. “We can now provide to our tweens and our teens a safe and highly effective vaccine that can do a lot of good.”