The latest COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are now available for children between 5 and 11 years old in Oregon, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) officials announced in a press conference Thursday. The agency encouraged parents and guardians to call their child’s doctor or pharmacy to schedule an appointment to receive the shot.

“This is a time when we gather with friends and family throughout the fall and winter,” said OHA epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger. “Being up to date with your vaccines will help ensure that you have protection against getting sick from this disease and really good protection from winding up in the hospital.”

The updated booster shots—called “bivalent” boosters—are reformulated to better protect against the most recent Omicron variant that accounts for over 90 percent of the current COVID cases in Oregon. Federal and local health officials approved the bivalent booster for Oregonians 12 and older in early September. The US Food and Drug Administration and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the booster for children 5 and older Wednesday. Oregon’s vaccine panel echoed that recommendation shortly after, making an estimated 343,000 children in Oregon eligible for the booster. 

Both adults and children are eligible to receive the booster two months after receiving their most recent COVID vaccine, or three months after being infected with COVID. Oregonians are not required to have received any previous booster doses prior to receiving the new bivalent booster. 

Vaccine providers have already received additional supplies to start administering boosters to kids Thursday, however, staff capacity may cause a delay in scheduling an appointment.

According to Sidelinger, over 259,000 bivalent boosters have been administered to eligible Oregonians as of Wednesday, or about 6 percent of the state population. While Oregon is outpacing other states in administered bivalent boosters, residents have not been as eager to receive the bivalent booster as previous COVID vaccines.

“Seven in ten Oregonians have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, and we would hope that seven in ten Oregonians would also receive an updated booster—but [Oregon] is far from that,” Sidelinger said. “I appreciate the uptick we’ve seen. I wish it was higher because we know that having that updated bivalent booster on board offers individuals, families, and neighbors the best protection from getting sick from COVID-19.”

Sidelinger theorized that because Oregonians are able to socialize more freely now than earlier in the pandemic, they feel less inclined to get a booster shot.

As of Thursday, 248 people were hospitalized for COVID in Oregon, down from 278 during the previous week. In comparison, hospitalizations in Oregon peaked at 464 on July 17 during the height of the most recent Omicron surge.

However, based on COVID trends in the southern hemisphere, health officials anticipate a fall surge of COVID, as well as an increase in flu infections compared to previous years. According to waste water testing in Oregon, COVID infection rates started to increase in late September. Sidelinger believes Oregon will see a more obvious increase in cases in late October and November. OHA predicts that the fall surge will peak in early December, but the peak will be lower than previous surges during Omicron and Delta strain waves.