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WASHINGTON – The school-age vaccination campaign in the United States is on track, health officials said on Wednesday, but experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to keep up the momentum initial.

About 900,000 children aged 5 to 11 will have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in their first week of eligibility, the White House said, giving a first look at the pace of the children’s vaccination campaign. school age.

“We’re off to a very good start,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said during a briefing with reporters.

Final clearance for the injections was granted by federal regulators on November 2, with the first doses to children starting in some locations the next day.

The estimated increase in vaccinations among school-aged children appears similar to a jump seen in May, when adolescents aged 12 to 15 became eligible for vaccines.

Today, nearly 20,000 pharmacies, clinics and doctors’ offices administer the doses to young children, and the Biden administration estimates that by the end of Wednesday, more than 900,000 doses for children will have been administered. In addition, around 700,000 first appointments are scheduled for the next few days.

About 28 million children aged 5 to 11 are now eligible for the low-dose Pfizer vaccine. Children who receive their first of two injections by the end of next week will be fully immunized by Christmas.

The administration encourages schools to organize vaccination clinics on site to make it even easier for children to get vaccinated. The White House is also asking schools to share information from “trusted messengers” such as doctors and public health officials to fight misinformation around vaccines.

A first increase in demand for vaccines was expected from parents who waited for the chance to protect their youngest children, especially before the holidays.

In West Virginia’s Cabell County, strong demand for pediatric vaccines has led local health officials to begin setting up vaccination clinics at all public colleges in the county. A spokeswoman for the county health department said there were queues for vaccines in the first few days after doses were approved for children ages 5 to 11, but things have slowed since then.

Some experts say that nationwide, demand could start to decline in just a few weeks. They note that survey data suggests that only a fraction of parents have plans to get their children immunized immediately, and they suspect the trend will play out as it did earlier this year when children ages 12 to 15 were allowed to be vaccinated.

In the first week after vaccines for this age group were approved in May, the number of teens receiving a first injection jumped to about 900,000, according to a review of federal data from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The following week it increased again, to 1.6 million.

“There was a first explosion,” said Shannon Stokley of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But then the number steadily declined for months, only briefly interrupted in early August as the delta variant increased and parents prepared to send the children back to school.

Since then, adolescent vaccinations have dropped dramatically, to just 32,000 people who received their first vaccines last week. Only about half of adolescents aged 12 to 17 are fully immunized, compared to 70% of adults.

Unless there are vaccination requirements for school attendance, vaccination rates in young children are unlikely to be as high as those seen in adults – or even adolescents, some experts have said.

Part of the reason is that COVID-19 has been more dangerous for adults, especially the elderly, while causing much less serious illness and death in children, they noted.

“Parents may have the impression that it may not be as serious in young children or that they are not passing it on,” said Stokley, acting deputy director of the CDC’s immunization services division. .

But more than 2 million cases of COVID have been reported in American children aged 5 to 11 since the start of the pandemic, including 66 deaths in the past year, according to CDC data. “We’re going to have a lot of work to do to explain to parents why it’s important to get children immunized,” she said.

Zients said efforts to immunize young children continue to intensify, with the commissioning of new clinics. Government officials expect the number of children vaccinated to continue to rise in the days and weeks to come, he said.

“We are just getting started,” he said.

Earlier this year, the White House set – and missed – a July 4 target for at least a certain percentage of American adults to be vaccinated. Authorities have not announced a similar target for children.

Dr Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, called the new numbers reassuring and said the rollout appears to be going smoothly for the most part. She noted, however, that with a lower dose and different vials than with older children, deployment requires more steps, and some states have been slower in getting the vaccine to suppliers.

Initial data from some areas shows black children lagging behind whites in getting their first doses, which Beers says is raising concerns.

“It’s really important to make sure the vaccine is readily available in a wide variety of places,” Beers said.

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