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Dakotas pediatricians urge child COVID-19 vaccinations as omicron emerges in US

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More than 200 pediatricians in the Dakotas have signed onto a statement urging parents to vaccinate their children against COVID-19 as the troubling omicron variant of the coronavirus begins to surface in the U.S. and the holidays near.

Meanwhile, state health data on Friday showed an increase in active COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in North Dakota, five more virus-related deaths, and a continued dominance in the state of the delta variant of the virus.

Omicron recently emerged out of South Africa and Europe and is now being documented around the globe. It has been identified this week in a handful of states including Minnesota. Scientists are racing to understand how contagious it is, how sick it will make people and how effective vaccines might be against it.

“With the holidays upon us and an unpredictable new variant on its way, vaccines are the best way to reduce the transmission and severeness of COVID-19," said Dr. Kathy Anderson of Bismarck, president of the North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We cannot overstate the importance of ensuring children receive this safe and effective vaccine. Immunizing your children will protect them and your families, allowing for a safer and healthier holiday season.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children 5 years of age and older receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Children 12 and older who are moderately or severely immunocompromised should receive an additional booster 28 days or more after their primary series, according to the organization.

North Dakota health officials earlier this week urged all unvaccinated North Dakotans to get a COVID-19 vaccine or a booster shot before omicron arrives in the state, given the uncertainties about the variant's impact.

"The good news in some of this is that the things we've been doing all along to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus are still important today and still are going to help us to reduce the spread of omicron, if omicron becomes present in our area," said Kirby Kruger, head of the Health Department's disease control division and forensic pathology section.

Delta dominance

North Dakota continues to have one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the nation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cases, deaths and hospitalizations in the state all have spiked in recent months due to delta.

Confirmed delta cases in North Dakota have risen to 3,047, according to weekly data provided by Kruger.

Delta was first identified in North Dakota in late June. It has since pushed out other variants previously identified in the state -- alpha, beta, gamma, epsilon and mu. There have been no cases of any of those variants identified in North Dakota for about three months.

North Dakota's state lab has identified 4,442 total cases of the six variants, though the actual number is almost certainly higher than the data indicates, since only 5-10% of total positive COVID-19 tests weekly undergo the more complex process through which variants are determined. That's enough to create a representative sample, according to Kruger. The state lab also is testing for omicron.

There have been 369 hospitalizations and 59 deaths linked to variants in North Dakota; about two-thirds of the hospitalizations and three-fourths of the deaths are linked to delta.

Daily data

The Health Department's coronavirus dashboard on Friday showed 531 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and a slight rise in active cases, to 3,392 statewide with 558 in Burleigh-Morton counties.

The pandemic death toll increased to 1,912, including 35 reported in just the past four days. The state no longer publicly reports the county, sex and age range of newly confirmed deaths. The dashboard death totals for Burleigh-Morton counties were not immediately updated.

The state's 14-day rolling average test positivity rate rose again, to 7.67%, remaining well above the state target of less than 5%.

There have been 164,088 confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Dakota during the pandemic, with 158,784 recoveries and 6,556 hospitalizations.

Active hospitalizations rose by 10 from Thursday, to 177. The most recent state data showed about 8% of staffed inpatient beds available statewide and about 7% of intensive care unit beds open. CHI St. Alexius Health in Bismarck had no available staffed general care beds but one open ICU bed. Sanford Health Bismarck continued to have no available beds listed in either category.

More information

The vaccine dashboard shows 57.4% of eligible North Dakota adults, 35.2% of adolescents in the 12-18 age group and 2.6% of children ages 5-11 are considered fully vaccinated. People can go to https://www.ndvax.org or call 866-207-2880 to see where COVID-19 vaccine is available near them.

The CDC recommends COVID-19 booster shots for all adults. About 16% of North Dakotans have received a third dose of vaccine, but the dashboard does not distinguish between how many received a third dose because they are immunocompromised and how many received a general booster dose.

The coronavirus transmission risk is considered substantial or high in all of North Dakota's 53 counties except Grant and Slope, according to the CDC's COVID-19 data tracker website. The CDC recommends people in those risk categories wear masks in public indoor settings.

A list of free COVID-19 testing offered by local public health units is at health.nd.gov/covidtesting. For more detailed information on coronavirus in North Dakota, go to www.health.nd.gov/coronavirus. For more information on coronavirus variants, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/transmission/variant.html.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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