SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota is now offering COVID-19 vaccines for those age 12-15, the state Department of Health announced Wednesday, May 12, after federal regulators approved the Pfizer vaccine for those younger than 16, the previous age limit.

State health officials seek to inoculate 70% of the state's population, hoping to achieve what's known as herd immunity: The point where a population is so widely protected against COVID-19, the virus that causes it struggles to spread. Vaccinating younger people is a crucial step in that direction. There are 48,120 people in that age group in South Dakota, according to state Department of Health.

“Given vaccines have proven safe and effective, offering them to this age group is yet another way to protect our citizens and our communities against COVID-19,” said Daniel Bucheli, the health department's spokesman, in a news release “Our partners across the state stand ready to get shots in arms, and we encourage parents to protect their children from the virus by getting them vaccinated today.”

Under South Dakota law, parental consent is still required to vaccinate minors.

Previously on Wednesday, state health officials announced a vaccination milestone: More than 50% of state residents then eligible for the vaccine — those age 16 and older — had been fully vaccinated. Adding those age 12-15 to the eligibility list will lower than percentage, although it's not clear by how much, so the milestone was more of a temporary statistical one.

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Still, the progress is welcome tidings for a state with nearly 2,000 residents dead due to COVID-19. The inoculations are likely responsible for the ebb of the virus in the state. The daily case rate continues to slow and Wednesday's reported active case count remains on a steady decline. Active cases in the state stood at 1,004 on Wednesday, reaching a level not seen since late August, as the fall COVID-19 surge was ramping up.

But the state is grappling with a big problem: The number of South Dakotans newly seeking a COVID-19 vaccine is slowing dramatically, with a significant portion of the state's population appearing either hesitant or unwilling to get vaccinated.

While tens of thousands of South Dakotans have been getting vaccinated each week, The rate started slowing significantly in late April, even as access to the virus opened to everyone in the state aged 16 and older.

"The number of people coming in for their first shot has slowed down compared to the early days," said Kim Malsam-Rysdon, secretary of the state Department of Health, in a Wednesday morning media call. "But we also know that we're going to need to continue to work on this through the summer months, and continue to help people make that choice. We expect to be working on this for some time."

In response to the slowdown, the Department of Health has dialed back its vaccine supply to an order-on-demand model to the state's hospital systems. It's also ramping up an advertising blitz to promote the vaccine and address concerns and misinformation, placing ads in newspapers and on TV, radio and social media.

Malsam-Rysdon said the state is working up more promotional efforts, with "trusted voices" addressing specific groups and coordination with community organizations to educate their members. Also, the state's hospital systems are also doing their own promotional and educational outreach on vaccines.

There are increasingly more places to get the vaccine across the state, Malsam-Rysdon said, with more clinics, pharmacies and health centers stocked with vaccines.

"We're seeing more and more access points across the state, being supplied by other sources as well," she said. "I think it's important that people that have not been vaccinated to keep checking the DOH website."

South Dakotans can directly connect with a health system providing vaccinations in their area by visiting the vaccine section of the state health department's COVID-19 website at covid.sd.gov or by texting GETVAX to 438-829 (English) or VACUNA to 822-862 (Spanish), to find the nearest vaccination location.

The following are the state Department of Health COVID-19 case rates, deaths, hospitalizations and vaccinations as of Wednesday. Because all data is preliminary, some numbers and totals may change from one day to the next.

Statewide case rates

  • NEW CASES: 83 (seven-day daily average: 110)
  • TOTAL ACTIVE CASES: 1,004
  • TOTAL CASES: 123,518
  • TOTAL RECOVERED: 120,516

  • DAILY TEST POSITIVITY RATE: 6%

Hospitalizations, deaths

  • NEW HOSPITALIZATIONS: 9

  • ACTIVE HOSPITALIZATIONS: 66

  • TOTAL HOSPITALIZATIONS: 7,476

  • DEATHS, NEWLY REPORTED: 7

  • TOTAL DEATHS: 1,988

Vaccinations

  • INITIAL DOSE ADMINISTERED (IF 2-DOSE VACCINE): 336,018, total: 55.9% of population*

  • FULLY VACCINATED: 304,435, total: 50.1% of population

*(Vaccine dose count based on state distribution. Population percentage includes vaccines given to South Dakota residents through federal programs, including IHS and VA)

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