Approximately 300,000 children under the age of 5 in the US – about 2% of that age group – have received at least one shot of the Covid-19 vaccine since it was recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month, a senior White House official told CNN Thursday, a number the official says aligns with expectations, though is lower than other age groups.
The US Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization on June 17 for both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for young children. Vaccine advisers to the CDC voted unanimously on June 18 to support recommending Covid-19 vaccination for children as young as 6 months and vaccine administration began shortly after that.
A senior White House official told CNN Thursday’s data was “very much in line” with the Biden administration’s expectations for this age group, though it was significantly behind the pace of other age brackets.
“It’s predicated on a couple of things: In particular, how parents tend to make these kinds of decisions. The overwhelming majority want to get their kids vaccinated in the pediatrician’s office or family provider’s office and about half say they prefer to do that during an annual wellness visit or routine visit and so that’s how they’re used to vaccinating their kids,” the senior official said, adding that the administration expects that number to continue to grow over months as families complete those annual check-ups.
The uptake for the 6-month-to-5-year-old age group is behind the pace of the 5-to-11-year-old age group in the same time frame, which the official attributed to demographic differences in these age groups.
“We expected this to be a little bit slower even than 5 to 11, which was slower than 12 to 17, which was slower than adults. You know, it’s just kind of what we anticipated, and what we prepared for,” the official said.
In the three weeks following the authorization of vaccines for the 5-to-11 age group, 15% of that population had received at least one shot, compared with 2% of the 6-months-to-5-years group.
Officials had previously warned that the nation’s youngest would be slower to adopt Covid-19 vaccines once eligible.
“When you look at this vaccination program for our littlest Americans, it will feel a little different than the vaccination programs we’ve run before. And that’s because we know parents will be turning to their pediatricians and their family physicians,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told reporters at the White House last month. “We have been guided in our approach by very clear data that says that most parents want to vaccinate their littlest ones in familiar settings. We also know that many parents have questions. And we want to encourage … every parent to talk to their physician, to talk to the pediatrician, to talk to the family physician. We also know that confidence in vaccines builds over time.”
Dr. Sean O’Leary, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Diseases, told CNN in an interview that it’s too early to judge the success of the rollout for the young age group.
“The campaign is still getting ramped up,” he said, adding that there is also “often a lag in data.”
O’Leary noted that many parents are taking a “wait-and-see” approach and echoed the White House’s assessment that many parents are making these decisions during routine visits with their child’s medical provider, suggesting that uptake will continue to increase. And, he added, many primary care providers aren’t yet stocking the specialized vaccines for children under 5, presenting additional challenges for distribution.
The administration has delivered over 5 million doses of vaccines for the under-5 age group to 15,000 sites across the country, the senior White House official noted.
In addition to the annual rush of back-to-school appointments, the official also noted that upcoming travel and surges in cases “(tend) to be a motivator for parents” considering whether to vaccinate their young children.
“We expect there’s going to be somewhat of a steady stream as people have their routine visits with their providers. And then there also will be some of those moments where you have an increased or heightened interest,” the official said.
Conversations with providers, the official said, have been key to parents’ decision making more than any other effort by the White House to encourage vaccinations among this group.
“What seems to be penetrating the most is those conversations with providers – hearing from the provider that you know and trust. We think those pediatrician appointments are so critical, those family provider appointments so critical,” the official said.
To that end, three top organizations of physicians wrote an open letter to parents and caregivers Thursday encouraging them to talk to their providers about vaccinating their children.
“If you and/or your child(ren) have not yet been immunized against COVID-19, now is a good time to talk with your physician about the vaccine. This will ensure your family is protected before this fall when there may be another surge as schools resume and people spend more time indoors,” the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians wrote in the letter.
The letter warned of Covid-19’s unpredictability: “Even otherwise healthy children with no underlying medical conditions can experience both short- and long-term health complications from COVID-19 that can affect their mental and physical health and quality of life,” adding that vaccines “prevent the most severe illness.”
The letter concluded, “The long-awaited authorization of Covid-19 vaccines for young children is an important milestone and comes as a relief for millions of families. Science has given us the tools to defeat this virus. Now it’s up to you. To find Covid-19 vaccines for children, caregivers can talk with their health care professional, local health department or clinic, or visit vaccines.gov.”
CNN’s Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.