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Children account for high proportion of Oregonians susceptible to COVID-19 infection

Nov. 4 OHSU forecast emphasizes benefits of vaccination for newly eligible kids age 5 to 11
An image of the exterior of the Doernbecher Children's Hospital emergency department.
The new forecast shows that vaccinating kids could help reduce the spread of the virus. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

Vaccinating younger children could have a significant impact on reducing the overall number of Oregonians susceptible to COVID-19, according to the latest updated statewide COVID-19 forecast from Oregon Health & Science University.

The forecast shows that people younger than 20 account for almost half of the estimated 989,000 Oregonians who remain susceptible to infection, defined as those who haven’t achieved immunity through vaccination or recent infection. On Wednesday, Nov. 3, children 5 to 11 years old became eligible for vaccination in Oregon.

The new forecast shows that vaccinating kids could help reduce the spread of the virus.

An image of Peter Graven, Ph.D., (OHSU). A man with light hair, smiling.
Peter Graven, Ph.D. (OHSU)

“Our best estimate is that people younger than 20 make up about half of the susceptible population in Oregon,” said Peter Graven, Ph.D., director of the OHSU Office of Advanced Analytics. “We can now vaccinate a large share of that population, so that’s going to bring us closer to herd immunity. That’s a pretty big deal.”

The forecast projects that if 60% of newly eligible children become vaccinated, it will drop the overall proportion of Oregonians susceptible to infection from 23% as of Oct. 26 to 20%. Vaccinating younger children would bring Oregon closer to the point when we can start to expect effects of herd immunity to be reached with the highly contagious delta variant. At that point, when roughly 85% of Oregonians are immune either through vaccination or recent infection, experts say it will be much harder for the virus to spread.

The Oregon Health Authority reports the state will receive an initial shipment of 120,000 total pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine by Sunday, Nov. 8, which will be allocated to approximately 350 provider sites across the state, including OHSU. Agency officials indicate high demand for vaccine doses statewide as well as a need for patience by parents and caregivers as access to additional vaccine doses become available from the federal government in the coming weeks.

An OHSU infectious disease expert said it remains critical to raise vaccination rates overall, not just kids.

An image of Dawn Nolt, M.D. A woman with dark hair, smiling.
Dawn Nolt, M.D. (OHSU)

“Expanding vaccination to kids provides protection to them, but vaccinating the adults is what will put a stop to the pandemic,” said Dawn Nolt, M.D., professor of pediatrics (infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Even though children account for a relatively small proportion of severe cases of COVID-19 – only nine people 18 and younger were hospitalized with the disease statewide as of Nov. 3 – Nolt said the virus has caused a post-infectious illness known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, or MIS-C, in some children.

She said clinicians have reported seeing an increase in these cases statewide starting in October. Even though these cases aren’t recorded as COVID-19, all children with MIS-C require hospitalization, with the vast majority of cases treated in intensive care units.

“That’s a big reason to get kids vaccinated, to prevent MIS-C and other short- and long-term effects of COVID-19,” Nolt said.

The updated forecast shows that the number of hospitalized Oregonians will continue its slow descent through the holiday season. The updated forecast shows hospitalizations will fall to about 200 by the new year – down from the pandemic’s peak of 1,178 on Sept. 1, 2021.

As of Thursday, Nov. 4, a total of 532 Oregonians remained hospitalized, according to the latest figures provided by the Oregon Health Authority.

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