HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra promotes COVID-19 vaccines for kids in Minn.

Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, visited the Mayo Clinic on Wednesday and promoted COVID-19 vaccination for newly eligible elementary school children as protection against a pandemic wave that has worsened in Minnesota.

Hospital admissions and deaths from COVID-19 may be less common in children, but a vaccine could reduce these preventable tragedies and slow the spread of the coronavirus to vulnerable adults, Becerra said after touring a vaccination clinic on Rochester’s medical campus.

“We have to protect our children; it’s time,” Becerra said. “We’ve now got the green light from the people who matter the most — the doctors, the scientists, the researchers.”

Minnesota health officials hope new pediatric COVID-19 vaccinations and booster doses in adults this fall will reduce the number of pandemics that have defied forecasts and worsened in the past week. A total of 1,159 people with COVID-19 received inpatient care at hospitals in Minnesota on Monday, and along with non-COVID patients, they consumed 96% of the state’s available intensive care beds.

The state’s positivity rate of recent diagnostic tests for COVID-19 rose to 9.3%, the highest rate since Dec. 10, indicating that the coronavirus remains widespread. Minnesota was ranked sixth among states by the number of new infections in the past seven days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mayo’s 14-day modeling projected that Minnesota would have the nation’s highest new infection rate within two weeks, although not all predictions are so pessimistic. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Washington state predicts the number of new infections in Minnesota will peak next week, although pressure on hospitals will increase in December.

Becerra came to Minnesota at the invitation of U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who appeared with him in Mayo on Wednesday, along with Governor Tim Walz. The governor said new pediatric vaccinations along with booster doses in eligible adult Minnesotans could help reduce the latest wave.

“We can control the wave we’re in,” Walz said.

Minnesota reported a first dose vaccination rate in people 12 years and older of more than 74%, but that rate rises to 96% in seniors and falls to 59% in children ages 12-15.

The state has launched incentives to increase immunization rates among teens, including $200 gift cards for new recipients ages 12-17 and a raffle for five $100,000 scholarships to attend college in Minnesota for all recipients in that age range.

More than 10,000 new eligible children ages 5-11 have received pediatric doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine since it became available to them late last week.

dr. Nipunie Rajapakse, a Mayo pediatric infectious disease specialist, called it a “misconception” that children are not harmed by the coronavirus, noting that COVID-19 is now one of the top 10 causes of death among children in the US

“With the availability of this vaccine,” she said, “a lot of those hospitalizations and deaths are going to become vaccine-preventable events.”

Rajapakse also said the “mental health crisis in children” has arisen because of their isolation and loss of social contact, and vaccination could allow them to return to regular activities.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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