By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4) – More than 11,000 children between the ages of 5 and 11 have received their first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The state estimates there are nearly one million children in this age group. Gov. Jared Polis says the goal is to have 50 percent of this group vaccinated by the end of January.

Children who participated in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trials were invited to the state capitol Monday. Governor Polis celebrated their contributions in the fight against the virus, but the battle in Colorado is far from over.

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(credit: CBS)

“There are 17 kids aged zero to 11 in the hospital right now from COVID. That number can be zero. There are eight kids in the hospital between the ages of 12 and 17. In many ways this is even sadder because they don’t have to be there,” said Polis. “The vaccine has been available to them for months. Zero of those eight kids between ages 12 and 17 who are in the hospital were vaccinated.”

Over the weekend, nearly 100 more Coloradans were admitted to hospitals with COVID-19.

Now, hospitals can’t fit 100 more. Polis says we’re down to less than 100 emergency beds across the state. The surge has put a strain on hospitals like National Jewish Health.

“It’s not just the beds, it’s having a nurse and having a physician to take care of the patient. That has several ramifications. It means many of our critical care physicians who just got off a shift or a rotation, and are planning to see patients in outpatient clinic for a week or two, might be pulled from clinic and rescheduling patients,” said Dr. David Beuther, a pulmonologist and Chief Medical Information Officer at National Jewish Health.

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The state has taken action to help alleviate the strain on hospitals but has not implemented a statewide mask mandate. Masks have been proven to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In the past, Polis used hospitalizations to implement safety measures like a mask mandate, but don’t expect one from him anytime soon.

CDPHE says he’s leaving it up to the counties. CDPHE says the most protective measure Coloradans can take to protect those who are at-risk and to reduce community spread is getting vaccinated.

“The temporary fix is to have these public health measures that we’re all familiar with. Masking is clearly one of them,” said Beuther. “It’s not completely clear why Colorado is struggling so much. But one of the reasons is that we don’t have the rate of vaccination we need nationally or locally. That’s the permanent fix to the problem.”

Beuther says current surge has made staffing intensive care units a challenge.

Health officials say critical that the half-million newly eligible Coloradans do their part and get the shot.

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Find more information on vaccines and children in Colorado.

Tori Mason