UTAH (ABC4) – With Utah now among the growing number of states now reporting cases of the omicron variant, there is still a lot that health officials don’t know about the new strain. Doctors say they have concerns for school-aged children and stress that vaccination is key in combatting the virus.

Right now, health officials say it’s still too early to determine how effective our current vaccines will protect kids against the new omicron variant compared to adults but there’s no reason to believe that the protection will be any different than what’s available now.

During a Friday press conference with the media, when asked about how severe the new strain of COVID may affect young children Dr. Andrew Pavia of the University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s hospital said “We know that kids are at risk in becoming infected with COVID-19 in general.”

Currently in the United States Omicron has been detected in over a dozen states including Utah. But doctors warn the Delta variant also continues to wreak havoc in our state prompting high transmission rates and mass hospitalizations.

According to Utah Health Officials, school-aged children make up one in five new cases of COVID-19 infections. 

However, Dr. Pavia shares that since the pediatric doses of the COVID vaccine became available in early November — over 70-thousand Utah kids ages 5 to 11 have received at least one dose of the kid-size vaccine.

“It means parents are really embracing it,” says Pavia. But doctors also are aware that not all parents are in support of getting their children the shot.

Dr. Pavia says the ICUs at primary children’s hospital are near capacity with COVID patients and kids dealing with other viruses such as influenza and RSV, he also shared that hospital staff is overwhelmed by saying “largely we’re at the limit of what we can do with staffing.”

With the potential of a post-thanksgiving surge of cases, Pavia says parents who are still on the fence about getting their kids the jab may want to get it done sooner than later. “If parents want the freedom from fear and that peace of mind to have your kids protected as they go out on Christmas break with family and friends then now is time to get your kids vaccinated and you don’t have much time to waste,” says Pavia.

Doctors say they know one way of hopefully increasing the number of kid vaccinations is by making it more accessible to parents who are just too busy to schedule a time to get their child vaccinated. 

Dr. Pavia says vaccine clinics in or near schools may help increase the number of kid vaccinations. He says “We know that if vaccines are more convenient people are more likely to do it, for the kids who need it and parents who haven’t had a chance yet those seem to work really well.”

Dr. Pavia says right now it’s not known if at some point kids will need a booster shot as a form of stronger protection against both delta and the omicron.