Breaking down the effect vaccinating younger kids could have on NC’s numbers

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolina could see a bump of about 360,000 new vaccinations after the COVID-19 vaccine receives approval for kids between 5-11, a CBS17.com data analysis found.

That should mean at least some extra protection for everyone in the state — even if it still won’t bring the total vaccination rate anywhere close to herd immunity.

“We might have an outsized benefit from vaccinating younger kids than we do from vaccinating maybe others, including adults,” said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Pfizer earlier this week said its vaccine was safe in preteens and soon will ask the FDA to authorize it for emergency use in that age group.

When that happens, expect a spike in the vaccine numbers across North Carolina. It’s happened every time the shots have been opened up to a new group of people.

“We will see a bump,” Wohl said. “We will see kids come in and get vaccinated.”

But how many of them? We can offer a guess.

Office of State Budget and Management figures estimate there are about 900,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 11 in the state’s population of 10.4 million.

If they get their first shot at the same rate as older children — about 41 percent of those between 12 and 17 have had at least one dose — that would lead to another 360,000 new vaccinations and would push the state’s overall vaccination rate past 60 percent.

That’s an increase of 3 percentage points from the current rate; 57 percent of the state’s total population has had at least one shot.

“I do think that it will have an impact,” said Dr. Tony Moody, a professor in the department of pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center.

He says an important predictor for whether a child between 5 and 11 gets the vaccine is the vaccination status of the rest of the family.

“I think the biggest areas where you’re going to see uptake are areas where there’s been a lot of uptake for the adult vaccine,” he said. “I think that parts of the state where you see sort of modest or not-great uptake, it’s unlikely that you’re going to see a lot of uptake in that age range, as well, because I think this is really going to track along family decision lines.”

But it leads to a trickle-down of protection, even if the total vaccination rate still won’t approach the estimated 80 percent or higher needed to claim herd immunity.

“Kids are, by definition, in congregate settings every day of the week,” Wohl said. “And so the question is, can we protect ourselves better by vaccinating this pretty crucial group of kids who middle with other kids, playing sports. Even if they’re in a school that has masks, we see that there’s some transmission that occurs (but) it’s much lower than schools that don’t have masks.”

Moody said children are “frequently vectors” for transmissible diseases like COVID-19 and said inoculating them also can protect the adults around them.

“If you’ve got people they’re coming into contact with — teachers, grandparents, whoever — that’s really going to have a big impact,” Moody said.

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