GRAND FORKS — About three weeks after the federal government lowered the minimum age for a COVID-19 vaccine, the number of Grand Forks County teenagers who’ve gotten at least one dose has nearly doubled.
As of May 17, 419 county residents ages 12-17 had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. That number rose to 802 residents as of Tuesday, June 1, according to staff at Grand Forks Public Health. It represents about 19% of the 4,204 county residents in that age range.
On May 11, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer-branded vaccine for people ages 12-15, lowering the minimum age requirement by four years. As the countywide vaccination pace slows from hundreds of people per week to a few dozen, the wider range of people who can receive a vaccine means a larger pool, so to speak, of potential recipients. That, in turn, makes it easier to vaccinate 60% of all county residents, which is the figure public health workers believe will mean the county has reached “herd” immunity, leaving the virus little, if any, figurative room to spread from person to person.
But the county is still more than 10,000 people short of that goal. As of June 1, 28,893 Grand Forks County residents had been fully vaccinated, which is about 41.6% of the total population. Another 1,946 people are partially vaccinated, which means they’ve received the first of two doses needed for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and are waiting to receive the second.
That “path” to herd immunity still goes through the much more populous 18-64 age range, according to Michael Dulitz, Grand Forks Public Health’s COVID-19 data and analytics leader.
“We need 10,000 more people. There’s only 3,400 people left in the 12 to 17 age group, so we need people in the 18 to 64 age group to get vaccinated,” he explained.
Anecdotally, many people have been getting vaccinated at Grand Forks Public Health’s mobile vaccine clinics who otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance, Dulitz said.
“They just needed us to provide a location that was convenient for them because they were busy with work or family obligations or things like that,” he said, “or they just needed to walk by and have the opportunity presented to them in a moment where they didn’t have to take extra steps to get signed up to get the vaccine.”
Motivations vary by site, Dulitz added. A regularly scheduled vaccine clinic at a Hugo’s grocery store on 32nd Avenue often sees patients who just needed to walk by and see it, he said. Clinics at the city’s library have seen nearby residents, and others at the Home of Economy store on North Washington Street have attracted laborers who stopped by on their way to pick something up from the store itself. Grand Forks Public Health staff have been doling out a lot of Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which only require a single dose, at a lot of their mobile clinics.
“It’s the one and done,” Dulitz said of that vaccine brand, “so it works really good with a population that is really busy.”
Beyond the 19% of Grand Forks County 12-to-17-year-olds who’ve received at least one vaccine dose, about 50% of people ages 18-64 have had the same. Ninety one percent and 88% of people ages 65-74 and 75 and older have had at least one dose, respectively, according to data sent to the local health department by the North Dakota Department of Health. The state has COVID-19 case statistics broken down into more granular age ranges, but it has not yet done the same — at least not publicly — for vaccination statistics.