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Walz, Klobuchar visit Mayo Clinic to urge vaccine for kids 5 to 11

Pfizer vaccine shows 91% effective in preventing symptomatic illness among children.

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Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, left, watched, along with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Kim Norton and Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, president and CEO of Mayo Clinic, as Elliott Su, 11, received his COVID-19 vaccine from LPN Christine Brand. Becerra toured Mayo Clinic, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Rochester to encourage pediatric vaccinations and highlight the Biden-Harris Administration's plans to build back better through investments in affordable drug prices. Pool / Glen Stubbe / Star Tribune
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If the stakes weren't so deadly, the message pitched by a lineup of political and medical leaders, including Gov. Tim Walz, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, for parents to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 was reminiscent of the 1970s Alka Seltzer advertising slogan: Try it! You'll like it!

But Klobuchar used a pitch just as pithy: "It works and it's free."

At a Mayo Clinic news conference Wednesday, Klobuchar was referring to the fact that children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible to take the Pfizer vaccine, which has shown a 91% effectiveness in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 illness among kids. The vaccination of children at Mayo Clinic began Friday. Enough vaccine has been secured to vaccinate all of the country's 28 million children in that age group. Pediatric and primary care offices, schools and community health clinics and pharmacies are equipped to administrator the vaccine.

Walz said the vaccine for children adds another weapon to the arsenal science has created to "break the back" of the coronavirus and "get us back to doing things that we want to do to."

Many contend children bore the worst disruption caused by COVID-19, keeping them away from their friends and grandparents and keeping them from school during the darkest days of the pandemic.

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"Just to be clear: Vaccinating our 5 to 11 year olds lets kids be kids," Walz said. "It lets them go back and stay in school. It lets them participate in sports. And if we do it now, it lets them spend time with loved ones over the holidays."

But Walz made clear that he didn't intend to issue any mandates requiring kids to take the COVID-19 vaccine to attend school. Schools generally require proof of vaccines to prevent a range of diseases, including polio, tentanus and chicken box. But in today's polarized environment, a mandate would be counterproductive, Walz said.

"I think any time you talk about a mandate right now, it makes it very challenging, because there's going to be digging in," Walz said.

The news conference at Mayo Clinic's Siebens Building also featured U.S. House and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and Mayo Clinic Dr. Nipunie Rajapakse.

Minnesota is in the top tier of states in terms of vaccine compliance at 60-plus percent. It also ranks high in booster shots. Yet it is in the midst of another rising wave of infections. Leaders were asked the point of getting vaccinated if it couldn't prevent such episodes.

Walz said infection rates would be "astronomical had we not had the vaccine."

He also pointed to seasonal changes and an unexplained randomness to the virus as factors behind the surge. But far and away, the biggest reason the state is seeing growth in infections, he said, is the still large number of people who remain unvaccinated. He estimated that 25 percent of residents may not take it.

"This is mostly the surge of the unvaccinated," Walz said. "They make up vast majority of hospitalizations. They make up almost the entirety of the deaths."

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Rajapakse said it is a "common misperception" that children have not been impacted by the virus. More than 6.5 million children in the U.S. have tested positive with the virus, tens of thousands have been hospitalized and hundreds have died.

"COVID-19 is also now listed among the top 10 causes of death amongst children in our country," she said.

Rajapakse, who was noticeably pregnant and weeks away from delivery, encouraged women who are pregnant to get the vaccine, since it has been "demonstrated to be safe and effective in pregnancy." She said she had gotten her booster a few weeks ago.

"I've had some relief in knowing that my baby will have some of these protective antibodies transferred to her before she's born," she said.

Rochester school officials say another benefit of kids being vaccinated is the ability to stay in school. Students can be quarantined for up to 14 days if they are exposed to someone with the virus, meaning being within 3 feet of a student with a confirmed positive case in a classroom setting. If a student is vaccinated, they do not have to be quarantined.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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