Dip in pre-K-12 COVID-19 may be short-lived in Minnesota – Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minnesota continued to expand COVID-19 vaccination opportunities to newly eligible children 5-11 on Thursday as public health officials said a decline in coronavirus infections in pre-K-12 schools might be short-lived.

While pre-K-12 student infections declined from 2,968 in the week ending Oct. 2 to a preliminary total of 823 in the week ending Oct. 23, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said final data should close that gap and reveal higher totals.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think the cases are going to continue to drop,” said Malcolm, speaking at a makeshift vaccination clinic at Brooklyn Center Elementary school where parents scheduled 157 children to get shots on Thursday.

Cases are included in the pre-K-12 count if students were infectious while in their school buildings.

A turnabout in pre-K-12 data would match a broader resurgence in COVID-19 activity. COVID-19 hospitalizations in Minnesota reached a new peak in the latest wave of 1,021 on Wednesday, after declining to just over 900 late last month.

The state on Thursday also reported 32 more COVID-19 deaths and 3,718 more coronavirus infections, raising the state’s pandemic totals to 8,793 deaths and 811,654 infections.

“This surge has been pretty relentless,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “The numbers are not encouraging at this point in time. It’s at a point where if we do things right — vaccines, layered mitigations — we can make sure we’re not reporting 41 people dying and over 1,000 people in the hospital because of COVID.”

Walz visited with families and children at the Brooklyn Center vaccination site and commended the use of schools that provide safe and familiar environments for children who might be nervous about getting shots. A sloth from the Como Zoo was brought to the school to comfort children during their 15-minute waits after shots to make sure they didn’t have allergic reactions.

Vaccine clinics are being arranged at 16 schools across Minnesota this week to supplement availability of the Pfizer pediatric COVID-19 doses at medical clinics and pharmacies.

State officials expect high initial demand for vaccinations in grade schoolers that will then level off — with a Kaiser Family Foundation national survey last month showing 27% of parents would get their children scheduled for the shots immediately while another third would wait and the rest would refuse it.

Dr. Madeleine Gagnon, a pediatrician, brought two of her sons to the school clinic for COVID-19 vaccination, acknowledging that children are at lower risk of severe illness but the potential for long-term complications is poorly understood.

“Kids want to be kids,” she said. “They want to be in school. They want to be on the soccer team. They want to have a sleepover. This vaccine now allows them to do that with less risk — less anxiety that they are going to get sick or make their friends sick.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday recommended the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children 5-11 — making about another 500,000 Minnesotans eligible for shots. Nearly 3.7 million Minnesotans 12 and older have received at least first vaccine doses — a rate of 77.2% in that eligible population, according to CDC data.

Studies have found that all three COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. have remained protective against severe illness, hospitalization and death, but have lost some effectiveness at preventing infections amid a fast-spreading delta variant of the coronavirus. Booster doses are consequently recommended for Moderna and Pfizer recipients who are seniors or younger adults with underlying health problems or occupation risks for infection. All Johnson & Johnson vaccine recipients are eligible for boosters as well.

Observational data from Minnesota hospital systems support the protectiveness of the vaccine. Minneapolis-based Allina Health reported that unvaccinated patients made up 69% of its 250 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday. Unvaccinated people also made up 80% of the COVID-19 cases in intensive care and 83% of the patients placed on ventilators.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744