Nearly 50 percent of Olmsted County’s 16- and 17-year-olds have received at least one dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
“Where our efforts have been focused in the last few weeks is the 16- to 17-year-olds, knowing that access might be a little bit trickier (for them),” Olmsted County Public Health Director Graham Briggs told county commissioners Tuesday.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only option approved for the age group, so public health officials have been taking available doses to high schools to make the vaccines available to eligible teens.
As a result, the county has seen the vaccination rate climb from just above 20 percent on April 15 to nearly half of its 16- and 17-year-olds starting vaccinations.
It means 2,219 in the age group had received first doses of the vaccine as of Sunday, and Briggs said it’s being fueled by increased rates of infection among younger residents.
While overall infection rates are slowing, people 19 and younger accounted for about 42 percent of the county’s new COVID-19 cases between April 12 and April 25.
“That’s one of the reasons why we are trying to get that herd immunity increase in our 16- to 17-years-olds in our community while we can,” Briggs said, referring to the goal of increasing resistance to the virus to help prevent spread.
As the county continues to reach out to the teens, it’s also working with Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center on plans to reach even younger residents as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prepares to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds as early as next week.
What happened: Olmsted County commissioners received an update regarding COVID-19 from Olmsted County Public Health Director Graham Briggs.
Why does this matter: The county continues efforts to track the virus and make sure residents have access to vaccines.
What's next: Briggs will provide another update on May 18.
Briggs said being able to vaccinate younger residents quickly will increase the percentage of the overall population that is guarded against the virus.
As of Sunday, nearly 73 percent of eligible county residents had received at least one dose of vaccine, with 74.1 percent of residents ages 50 to 64 and 91.7 percent 65 and older having at least started the vaccination process.
However, when the overall population, including children, is considered, Olmsted County’s vaccination rate drops to 56.9 percent.
Briggs also said the county’s vaccination rate is slowing, with approximately 9,500 doses given a week, down from 11,000.
“We’ve reached a point of saturation now,” he said. “Anyone who wants a vaccine has access to one nearly immediately in the community.”
Vaccine hesitancy, he said, will be a factor in the nation’s ability to safely reach herd immunity goals.
“I would guess reaching 70 percent to 80 percent of the total population being vaccinated across the country might be a challenge,” he said.
While the vaccination rate is a popular way to gauge herd immunity, Briggs said the number of local infections is just as important when tracking resistance to the virus.
The county’s daily case rate is 12.1 per 100,000 people, and Briggs said dropping to 5.0 is the statewide goal set by Gov. Tim Walz.
“I’d like to see that get down to 5.0 and stay under 5.0 long term,” he said, noting it would show herd immunity is being achieved.
Briggs said two options exist for achieving herd immunity -- vaccinations or infections.
“Unless this virus just disappears, which it’s showing no signs that it will, the people who choose not to get vaccinated will inevitably get infected one way or another over the next year or two to three years,” he said.
He said residents who become infected are likely to contribute to the potential for herd immunity.
“That’s how pandemics work; they either gain immunity or they die,” he said.
Commissioner Ken Brown said he sees a path toward increased immunity locally, since some residents have likely had the virus without knowing it.
“My belief, and what I read, is that we will achieve herd immunity,” he said.
Briggs agreed that is the likely outcome, but the path continues to be uncertain.
“We’re going to reach herd immunity one way or another,” he said. “It is just whether we do it the easy way or the hard way on the individual level. Ultimately, that choice is up to the individual.”