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Utah’s Unique Population Could Impact Herd Immunity, Vaccine Rollout

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah’s distinctive population age structure must be factored in when planning for COVID-19 vaccine distribution and trying to reach herd immunity, according to doctors and demographers.

Utah is known for its iconic population characteristics, particularly its large share of young people.

“The share of our population less than 18 years old—youth—is the highest in the nation,” said Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

The Beehive State’s median age of 31.3 is the lowest in the country. The national median age is 38.4. Perlich said a younger population could be seen as a benefit in states trying to administer vaccines to the oldest populations first.

“We’ll get to younger people and distributing those vaccines sooner that other states because we have a smaller share of the population that is 65 years and older,” Perlich said.

Teenagers are an important segment of the population to focus on and protect in the fight against COVID-19, said Dr. Andrew Pavia, director of epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of Utah Health.

“About 28% of our population is less than 18,” Pavia said. “We won’t really stop transmission until we get down to the younger people.”

To reach a threshold of herd immunity, Pavia said, Utah would want to have more than 75% of the state’s population immune to the virus.

“We’re going to need to get about 2.6 million Utahns to be immune either through vaccine or infection,” Pavia explained, “and we can’t really do that without including teenagers.”

How exactly to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 is a daily debate, said Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious diseases physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

“It’s going to depend on a lot of factors,” he said.

Vento said it’s difficult to predict how children factor in to overall community immunity.

“It depends on things like the dynamics of the virus and the behaviors within those communities,” Vento said. “For example if you have 12 members in your household versus three members in your household.”

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