With the first day of school now on the horizon, Idaho Gov. Brad Little and state public health officials urged Idaho adults and adolescents to get vaccinated — if not for themselves, for young children who can’t get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“With the new school year upon us, we should renew our commitment to our students,” Little said in a media briefing Tuesday. “Simply put, we need more Idahoans to choose to receive the vaccine (so) our kids have a chance at a normal school year — one that is entirely in person, without outbreaks and quarantines.”
Dr. Kathryn Turner, deputy state epidemiologist, said Tuesday that per-capita case rates have increased significantly in children.
“Just recently, as of last Saturday, the case rates among the littlest of the littles” — 4-year-olds and younger, including babies — “have increased about 200% in the last two weeks,” Turner said.
Case rates are doubling as well among children aged 5 to 12, she said. “It’s really incumbent upon the adults in their lives, and older teens, to be vaccinated.”
Idaho’s cases have been climbing, due to the highly infectious Delta variant now circulating widely in Idaho.
Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen confirmed Tuesday that Delta is now the dominant variant in Idaho, rapidly overtaking all other variants of the coronavirus in a matter of a few weeks.
“The Delta variant is here, and it’s moving our numbers the wrong way,” Jeppesen said.
Delta is a version of the coronavirus that evolved to more easily invade cells. Researchers believe it may be able to rapidly multiply in a way that causes an infected person to spread the virus to many more people.
The COVID-19 vaccines, which are free and widely available in the Gem State to everyone age 12 and older, have proven effective at protecting Idahoans from severe disease — with unvaccinated Idahoans hospitalized 20 times as often as those with immune protection from a vaccine.
“The COVID vaccine is safe and effective,” Little said. “It’s been tested. And yes, some see side effects, but they’re generally very minimal. The vaccine almost guarantees that if you get COVID, you won’t get as sick from the disease if you’ve been vaccinated.”
As fall nears, Jeppesen said the state has created a back-to-school task force that will issue guidance to help schools and parents make decisions about health and safety.
Only a tiny fraction of children with COVID-19 have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and that seems to be true even as the Delta variant spreads, health officials said.
But until children can be vaccinated, they will remain vulnerable to the virus and can more readily spread it to others. Family members and others who have close contact with them can more easily break the chain of transmission through vaccination, officials said.
Cases among babies, toddlers and preschool-aged children rose from about 16 per 100,000 kids, to about 53 per 100,000 kids in the past two weeks, Turner said.
“Our zero to 11 year olds are really the most vulnerable population we have right now; there is no vaccine that’s authorized for these kiddos,” she said. “And so it’s really incumbent upon the adults in their lives, and older teens, to be vaccinated, to sort of cocoon these kids away from … the risk of becoming infected. So does it worry me? It does.”
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