WASHINGTON — Nearly 300,000 children under the age of 5 have received COVID-19 vaccinations in the two weeks since they became available, at a slower rate than older groups. But the White House says that’s what was expected for the eligible US population of about 18 million children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was due to release initial vaccination data for the age group later on Thursday, reflecting the doses administered since regulators approved it on June 18. The first vaccinations only started a few days later, since the doses had to be sent to doctors’ surgeries and pharmacies.
US officials had long predicted that the vaccination pace of the youngest children would be slower than that of older groups. They expect most admissions to take place in pediatric offices.
Many parents feel more comfortable getting their children’s vaccines from their regular doctors, said White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha, told The Associated Press last month. He predicted that the pace of vaccination would be far slower than in older populations.
“We will see immunizations ramping up over weeks and possibly even over a couple of months,” Jha said.
Officials also note that there is some hesitance on the need for vaccinations for children, who are far less likely to develop a serious illness or die from the coronavirus than older age groups. Parents are encouraged to speak to the child’s doctor for trusted information about the benefits of the vaccines.
A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April found that 1 in 5 parents of children under the age of 5 said they would get their child vaccinated as soon as it was approved, 38% said they would wait and see and nearly 4 out of 10 said they would not vaccinate their children at all or only vaccinate them when needed.
More than 5 million pediatric doses have been shipped to more than 15,000 locations, the White House said, ready for parents and children.
Still, the launch hasn’t been without hiccups for some parents of babies and toddlers due to government restrictions on pharmacies and some doctors not offering the shots.
Many states prohibit pharmacies from vaccinating children under the age of 3 or require prescriptions. In other cases, pharmacies have insufficient staff, space or training to properly give shots to the youngest, said Allie Jo Shipman, director of state policy for the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations.
“It’s just a more complex situation than your older children and adults,” Shipman said.
Some doctors chose not to offer the shots due to cold storage requirements or concerns about wasting doses. The vaccine comes in multidose vials that must be used within 12 hours of opening.
“You don’t want the vaccine to go unused,” said pediatrician Dr. Lisa Costello of West Virginia, who works with her state’s COVID-19 task force. “They either have to find the number of people to be vaccinated for that vial or discard the leftover doses.”
Organizing after-hours vaccination times or bundling vaccination appointments are possible solutions doctors are trying, Costello said. And West Virginia has encouraged doctors to go ahead and open the vials, even if they only have one patient to vaccinate, she said.
For older children ages 5 to 11, immunization coverage varied widely by state, from a low of 11% of that age group who were fully vaccinated in Alabama to 63% in Vermont, according to an analysis of immunization data through June 29 from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Of the 10 states with the highest immunization coverage in the 5- to 11-year-old age group, five are in New England. Of the bottom 10 states, nine are in the south.
The Biden administration said that while the slow pace of vaccinations in the recent group was expected, officials will not be satisfied until as many people as possible receive vaccine protection. Parents can search vaccine suppliers by location, vaccine brand, and vaccinated age groups at vaccines.gov.
Johnson reported from Washington state.
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