WASHINGTON — Less than two weeks into the effort to vaccinate children between the ages of 5 and 11, the White House is seeing encouraging uptake statistics for this youngest cohort, according to internal Biden administration figures shared with Yahoo News, with more than 2.5 million already partially vaccinated.
“At least 2.6 million children are on their way to being protected from COVID-19, thanks to the president’s efforts to prepare an entirely new infrastructure to reach parents and their children where they are with vaccines,” a White House official told Yahoo News. “With our kids program just hitting full strength 10 days ago, we are already seeing that our effective rollout is helping parents and families across the country breathe giant sighs of relief.”
If the current pace holds for the rest of the week, and all the children who have received their first dose of the vaccine also receive their second (childhood dosing calls for three-week spacing, as is the case with adults), as many as 3 million young early adapters could be fully vaccinated by Christmas Eve. Individuals are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose, as that period gives the immune system sufficient time to develop antibodies against the coronavirus, according to public health officials.
That could be a monumental gift for family holiday gatherings in late December, though too late to make for an entirely worry-free Thanksgiving. The 2020 holiday season aligned with only the earliest vaccine distribution efforts, meaning that much of the anxiety about traveling and gathering with others remained in place for many Americans.
This year, though, vaccinated Americans should be confident about celebrating with others, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top medical adviser to President Biden, said earlier this week.
Inoculations of 5- to 11-year-olds began on Nov. 3, shortly after a modified dose of the Pfizer vaccine — one-third of what adults receive — received final approval from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-eight million children became eligible for vaccination with that decision. Vaccines for children below the age of 5 have not yet been approved.
A White House official who shared childhood vaccination figures with Yahoo News explained that the estimate of 2.6 million childhood vaccinations — by the end of the day on Wednesday — was reached by correlating state-level data, including from pharmacies and state health departments. The CDC has not yet released a public-facing tracking tool for childhood vaccination, as it has for other demographic groups.
Last week, the White House announced that 900,000 first shots had been administered in the first week of childhood vaccinations. Since then, the pace appears to have doubled, suggesting a high level of enthusiasm and in many parts of the country. And with months of experience, public health officials appear to have mastered distribution logistics too, with the White House estimating that 30,000 sites around the United States are now vaccinating children.
The internal document shared with Yahoo News pointed out that, whereas it took less than two weeks to vaccinate 10 percent of eligible children, adults needed 50 days to reach the same threshold when vaccines first became available in late 2020.
The childhood vaccination effort is being closely watched, because after more than a year of remote learning in many parts of the country, the desire to keep schools open is running high. Moreover, simply getting more people vaccinated — regardless of age — gives the coronavirus less ability to spread. Vaccinated people are much less likely to become infected with or transmit COVID-19 than unvaccinated people.
According to the internal documents, which are expected to be the focus of a White House pandemic response team briefing on Wednesday morning, 12 states have already surpassed the 10 percent benchmark for inoculations of children ages 5 to 11. Those states, the White House says, are Maryland, Virginia, Hawaii, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, Minnesota, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and Illinois.
The childhood vaccination figures are a bright spot for a White House that has seen 60 million eligible adults and adolescents decline to get immunized, despite having been eligible for weeks or months.