With the recent blessing of federal regulators, Los Angeles County is expanding the availability of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine to everyone aged 12 and over, the public health officer said Thursday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an emergency use authorization last week for use of the vaccine in people aged 12-17, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off this week. The vaccine had previously been restricted to people aged 18 and over.

Health officials have expressed hope that the Novavax vaccine would be more widely accepted by vaccine-hesitant residents, since it is based on more traditional protein-based technology used in other medications for decades — rather than the mRNA process employed by the Pfizer and Moderna COVID shots.

Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said the county is making the shots available to people 12 and over. Officials in Long Beach — which has its own health department — also said they were immediately beginning to offer the Novavax to the expanded age group.

“This expansion will help keep our children safe — especially as families prepare to return to school,” Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said in a statement. “We urge everyone to get vaccinated and protected if they haven’t already.”

Novavax is also a two-shot regimen, with the doses administered three to eight weeks apart, Davis said. Booster shots are not currently recommended for those who receive the Novavax vaccine, but Davis said that could change.

Los Angeles County reported 3,042 new COVID infections on Thursday, along with 18 new virus-related fatalities.

Meanwhile the number of COVID-positive patients in county hospitals dropped dramatically, with state figures putting the number at 802, down from 924 on Wednesday. Of those patients, 124 were being treated in intensive care, up from 104 a day earlier.

County officials have said that roughly 43% of the COVID-positive patients were actually admitted for virus-related illness, while the others were admitted for other reasons, with some only learning they were infected when they were tested at the hospital.

Despite the big drop in COVID patient numbers, Davis said the county in recent days has actually seen a slight uptick in the rate of virus-impacted patients being admitted to hospitals. In fact, the average daily rate rose to 9.6 per 100,000 residents — nearly pushing the county back in the CDC’s “high” virus activity level. The county was previously in the “high” category, but moved back to “medium” three weeks ago when the hospitalization rate fell below 10 per 100,000 residents.

The rate last week was 8.9 per 100,000 residents. Davis said that given the steady downward trend in COVID infection rates, health officials are hoping the recent uptick in hospitalization rates is a temporary anomaly that will quickly reverse.

The 3,042 new COVID infections confirmed Thursday lifted the county’s overall total from throughout the pandemic to 3,392,984. The county-reported case figures are believed to under-count the actual number of infections, since many people now rely on at-home tests, the results of which are often not relayed to county health officials.

The 18 new virus-related fatalities increased the county’s overall death toll to 33,076.

The average daily rate of people testing positive for the virus was 9.4% as of Thursday, roughly the same as the previous day.

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