(WASHINGTON) — The campaign to vaccinate elementary school age children in the U.S. is off to a strong start, health officials said Wednesday, but experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
According to the White House, approximately 900,000.00 children between the ages of 5 and 11 will have their first COVID-19 dose within their first week of eligibility.
“We’re off to a very strong start,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients, during a briefing with reporters.
Federal regulators granted final clearance on November 2, and the children received their first shots in certain locations that day.
It is similar to the May jump in vaccines for elementary-aged children, which saw adolescents aged 12-15 become eligible to get shots.
Now nearly 20,000 pharmacies, clinics and physicians’ offices are administering the doses to younger kids, and the Biden administration estimates that by the end of Wednesday more than 900,000 of the kid doses will have been administered. A further 700,000 appointments for first shots are planned in the coming days.
Around 28 million children aged 5-11 years old are eligible now for low dose Pfizer vaccine. The Christmas vaccine will cover all children who have received their second shot by next week.
To make it easier for children to receive shots, the administration encourages schools to have vaccine clinics at their sites. The White House is also asking schools to share information from “trusted messengers” like doctors and public health officials to combat misinformation around the vaccines.
The initial spike in vaccine demand was due to parents waiting before they could protect their kids.
In West Virginia’s Cabell County, high demand for the pediatric vaccines led local health officials to start setting up vaccination clinics in all the county’s public middle schools. According to a spokeswoman from the county health department, there were still some vaccine lines in the initial days following approval of doses for kids aged 5 to 11. However, things have improved over the years.
According to experts, the demand may begin to drop in just a few weeks. The experts note that poll data indicates only a small percentage of parents intend to have their children vaccinated immediately.
The number of children who received their vaccines in that age range increased by approximately 900,000. This was according to an American Academy of Pediatrics study of federal data. This number rose further to 1.6million the next week.
“There was an initial burst,” said Shannon Stokley of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of children dropped for several months. It was only then that the numbers were restored in August, when the delta variant surged. Parents prepared to return their children to school.
The number of adolescents getting their shots has dropped dramatically since then. Only 32,000 received their first shot last week. Half of all adolescents between 12 and 17 years old are fully vaccinated as opposed to 70% of adults.
Barring school attendance vaccination requirements, it’s unlikely that vaccination rates in young kids will be as high as what’s seen in adults — or even in adolescents, some experts said.
COVID-19, which has proved to be more hazardous for older adults and children than in younger ones, is one reason.
“Parents may have the perception it may not be as serious in young children or they don’t transmit it,” said Stokley, the acting deputy director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division.
The CDC reports that more than 2 million COVID-related cases in children ages 5 to 11 have been reported since the outbreak. There has also been 66 deaths. “We’re going to have a lot of work to do to communicate to parents about why it’s important to get children vaccinated,” she said.
Zients stated that the efforts to vaccine younger children are still being made, and new clinics have been opened online. He said government officials believe that the number of children who get vaccinated in coming weeks and days will increase.
“We are just getting started,” he said.
Earlier this year the White House set — and missed — a July 4 goal to have at least certain percentage of U.S. adults vaccinated. Officials did not announce a comparable target for the children.
American Academy of Pediatrics president Dr. Lee Savio Beers praised the numbers and noted that rollout is progressing smoothly. However, she noted that the vaccine rollout is more complicated than usual because of the lower dosage and use of different vials for younger children. Also some states are taking longer to get their vaccines.
Beers indicated that preliminary data shows Black children in certain areas are not receiving their first doses of vitamin D as well as whites. Beers is concerned.
“It’s really important to make sure the vaccine is easily accessible in a wide variety of places,’’ Beers said.
Stobbe reported in New York. This report was contributed by Anthony Izaguirre, Tallahassee (Fla.) and Lindsey Tanner, Three Oaks (Mich.).
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