Anyone who is able should get the booster or their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine now that they’re available.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October broadened its qualifications for people seeking to get a booster shot to include many preexisting health conditions.

Director Rochelle Walensky announced Nov. 2 the organization recommends children ages 5-11 receive their first dose of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine.

As cases fall in the Norman area, the booster shot and new doses for children are ways everyone can ensure the community stays on the right track.

Since early 2020, COVID has been responsible for the deaths of more than 11,000 Oklahomans.

In Cleveland County, 609 people have died from the virus, according to the New York Times.

More than 44,000 people in the county have contracted the virus, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Though nearly half the county is fully vaccinated and others have natural immunity, there is still uncertainty over how long either of these protections stay effective. And while the CDC states COVID-19 vaccines are generally more than 90% effective in preventing COVID infection or a severe form of the virus, the elderly, those in high-contact professions and people with preexisting health conditions are either proven to be at risk or could be more likely to contract the virus.

By getting a booster shot, Cleveland County residents ensure they can continue to protect themselves and potentially hundreds of people they come in contact with.

More specifically, they can continue to protect youth under 12, who until recently were unable to receive the vaccine.

Many of the reasons to get the booster apply to vaccinating 5-to-11-year-olds as well. This age demographic is in school, where potentially hundreds of students are in close quarters with each other every day, upping the potential for the virus to spread. It’s also a demographic that now comprises an estimated 25% of COVID cases as opposed to 3% at the beginning of the pandemic, said Dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with OU Health.

After a year of blended learning, it’s important for students to learn in person without fear of contracting the virus. It’s also important for them to have the same protection outside the classroom that much of the population now enjoys.

COVID can also impact children severely. Dr. Kate Cook, medical director of Pediatric Hospital Medicine at Norman Regional Health System, estimates 32% of children hospitalized with COVID at the facility didn’t have any other health conditions that put them at risk. She also said children hospitalized with the virus are likely to stay longer and need a ventilator more often than those hospitalized with the flu.

While the Pfizer vaccine is only approved for emergency use among children ages 5-11, the adult dose received the same emergency approval before the Food and Drug Administration gave it full approval in August.

This should ensure confidence that the CDC and FDA are doing their due diligence in their decision to approve it for this group.

The most effective way to put COVID behind us is by vaccinating as many people as possible and ensuring the vaccines remain effective in those who have already received them.

That’s why everyone who’s able should get the booster or receive their first dose if they’re able.

Appointments and availabilities for vaccines are on the state’s vaccination portal at bit.ly/3nchISV.

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