The State Public Health Commissioner tells Boston 25 News she is optimistic Massachusetts will avoid a COVID surge in the coming months the magnitude of Omicron — and Margret Cooke said there are no plans at this time to reinstate any additional mask mandates.
What the state DOES have planned: a new vaccination effort specifically — but not exclusively — targeting 5 to 11-year-olds during next week’s school vacation.
“It’s for kids and parents and grandparents, Cooke said. “And they’re going to be at venues such as bowling alleys, trampoline parks and even Six Flags will be joining with us for the promotion. They are convenient and easy ways for the entire family to either get vaccinated or boosted.”
The clinics will feature giveaways for those who get vaccinated, Cooke said, such as free tickets and free hours bouncing or bowling.
“That’s a terrific idea,” said Gerard Cody, Randolph’s Public Health Commissioner. “We always like to go out where we can find families and children of that age group.”
Randolph has been staffing a vaccination clinic for a year now — and it’s mostly busy now giving boosters. But next month, the health department is planning a vaccination day that, like the state clinics, will especially target younger kids.
“At this site alone, we vaccinated over 1,700 school aged children between the ages of 5 to 11,” Cody said. “Now that makes up about 41 percent of our community.”
Cody said he’d like to see a vaccination rate of 60 percent in the age group—and attributes the lagging numbers, in part, to the fact kids only became eligible for vaccination late last fall.
But overall, vaccination rates in 5 to 11-year-olds have been abysmal. The CDC reports just 28 percent in the US are fully vaccinated; 34 percent have received at least one dose of vaccine. Worse, vaccinations in this age group have been declining weekly since early February.
In Massachusetts, 49 percent of 5 to 11-year-olds are fully vaccinated; another 11 percent have received at least one dose. Only one state is doing better: Vermont.
The renewed efforts to vaccinate young children comes at perhaps a critical time in the pandemic. While the Omicron wave collapsed almost as quickly as it crested, the numbers never got down to a negligible level. And in recent weeks, cases — and hospitalizations — in Massachusetts have risen.
In the last week, the seven-day average positivity rate jumped 15 percent — from 2.98 percent to 3.42 percent. The seven-day hospitalization average rose nine percent in the same period — with daily Covid admissions now up to about 236.
“The current numbers are a reflection of the BA2 variant, which is the dominant variant here in Massachusetts and likely across most of the country,” Cooke said.
That variant — even more contagious than Omicron itself — is also showing up in increasingly higher levels in Boston wastewater, an indication cases will likely continue to rise.
“There are going to be upticks and there are going to be downswings in the Covid numbers,” Cooke said. “I think we can all see Covid is here to stay. And the best thing you can do is to protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated, by receiving a booster and by accessing the really effective treatments that we have rolled out across the Commonwealth.”
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