Florida’s COVID-19 cases continued to fall during Thanksgiving week. But vaccinations are also trending downward, and the effort to inoculate children ages 5-11 has stalled as experts fear the spread of the newly-detected omicron variant.
That’s according to the weekly report the state released on Tuesday, covering the seven-day period of Nov. 19-25. The report, which is usually released late Friday afternoon, was delayed last week because of the holiday.
New infections fell to 9,663 over the week, bringing the state’s total infection count to 3,686,860. It’s the lowest weekly infection rate since mid-June 2020. Florida’s case positivity was also down, dropping to 2.4 percent from 2.5 percent the week before.
The state reported 467 deaths in the past week. Many of those deaths occurred in previous weeks, but were only reported by the state as of Friday. The state does not report when those COVID patients died. Florida has recorded 61,548 COVID deaths during the 20-month pandemic.
The lull in infections comes as public health experts warn of the impending threat posed by the newly identified omicron variant. The first U.S. case of the variant was found in California, U.S. officials said Wednesday. The variant was first identified by South African scientists last week but has been detected in more than a dozen countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
The omicron variant has more than 30 mutations that experts warn could make vaccinations less effective. Pfizer announced that it would have more information about their vaccines efficacy against the variant in coming weeks. Experts stressed that the COVID vaccine is still the best defense against sever illness or hospitalization.
“People feel like they have the luxury of waiting and seeing because we don’t have higher case numbers,” said University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins.
But it takes about five weeks for an unvaccinated person to reach peak immunity. “So now is the time to go through with it,” she said. “Don’t delay until cases start going up.”
Florida vaccinations fell to 152,509 doses, down from over 160,000 the week before. That is one of the lowest weeks reported since vaccines became available at the start of the year. Nearly 69 percent of eligible Floridians have had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and 60 percent of the total population is fully vaccinated.
Less than 34,000 of the state’s 1.7 million children ages 5-11 were vaccinated last week. That is the lowest number of children to get vaccinated since the child-sized dose of the Pfizer vaccine became widely available in November.
Florida’s youngest residents are the least likely to be vaccinated. Only 8 percent of children in that age group have been vaccinated.
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“I really felt like it would be higher,” said Prins. “But some people are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“It’s true that young kids don’t tend to get as severe cases of COVID, but the risk is certainly there and it’s preferable to get the vaccine.”
Vaccination rates also lag for teens and young adults. Only 57 percent of those ages 12-29 have been vaccinated.
Last week saw the highest number of booster shots distributed since they were approved in December. More than 270,000 doses of the booster shot were distributed from Nov. 19-25. That brings the total number of boosted residents up to 2,730,605, which is 19 percent of those already vaccinated in Florida.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that everyone 18 and over who received their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at least six months ago should get a booster shot as soon as possible. The government also recommends that those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get either mRNA booster from Pfizer or Moderna.
The Tampa Bay area recorded 2,056 new infections during Nov. 19-25, bringing the area total up to 714,767 infections. Hillsborough led the region with 868 infections, Pinellas had 333, Polk had 382, Pasco had 200, Manatee had 200, Hernando had 48, and Citrus had 52.
As of Friday, 62 percent of Hillsborough residents were vaccinated, 64 percent in Pinellas, 60 percent in Polk, 62 percent in Pasco, 64 percent in Manatee, 56 percent in Hernando, and 57 percent in Citrus.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with comments from a University of Florida epidemiologist.
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How to get vaccinated
The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:
Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your zip code.
More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.
Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.
Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.
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