SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – Utah has the youngest population in the country.

With 5-to-11-year-olds now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, the state epidemiologist said it’s likely to have an impact on Utah’s communities.

State epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen said coronavirus cases are highest this school year among elementary-age kids.

“[We] had no way to protect them until last week and so they were totally susceptible and with the Delta variant circulating, we just know they were having a huge number of cases,” she said. “The vaccine can help us reverse that trend and get those kids in elementary school protected and keep the cases out of there.”

Dr. Nolen said 5-to-11-year-olds make up a large percentage of Utah’s population, and with so many students, it can make it easier for the virus to spread – especially if children are asymptomatic.

But with the COVID-19 vaccine now available for this age group, Dr. Nolen said she’s hopeful cases and hospitalizations will begin to go down.

“I think we can be hopeful by getting these kids vaccinated their rates will go down and their community’s rates will go down,” she said. “I think we can have hope this will have an impact throughout our state. We know that it’s not just affecting them but who they can pass it on to and how it affects the community.”

This time last week, Dr. Nolen said Utah’s coronavirus hospitalizations among children hit “double-digits” for the first time ever in one day.

While the risk of hospitalization for children remains low, Dr. Nolen said no one ever wants to see a child in the hospital.

As of Monday afternoon, Utah Department of Health data shows close to 6,000 5-to-11-year-old children had received their first shot.

Dr. Nolen said she anticipates more kids to be vaccinated this week, as it’s now available through multiple pediatricians, pharmacies, and health departments.

“It’s time for celebration. We have the next level of controlling this and protecting our families,” Dr. Nolen said.

The more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 (no matter their age) Dr. Nolen said the better chance we’ll be able to get some control over the virus.