The United States has begun distributing COVID vaccines for children as young as six months around the country, and availability of the shots will improve in the coming days, according to White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha.
U.S. regulators authorized Moderna Inc’s (MRNA.O) two-dose vaccine for children aged six months to five years and the Pfizer (PFE.N)-BioNTech (22UAy.DE) three-shot regimen for children aged six months to four years late last week.
It is unclear how many parents will vaccinate their youngest children. Since the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized in October for ages 5 to 11, only about 29% of that group has been fully vaccinated, federal data shows.
Just one-in-five parents with children under age five said they intended to get them vaccinated “right away” once they became eligible, a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation published in May showed.
Chinmay Hegde, the father of a 14-month-old daughter, told Reuters outside Children’s National Hospital in Washington that the U.S. authorization was a huge relief. His daughter was the first to be vaccinated at the hospital on Tuesday.
“I feel like we can just now go travel and do our trips without feeling as much stress,” he said, mentioning a planned family reunion in Canada in July.
Public health officials have been pushing for children to be vaccinated to help prevent hospitalizations and deaths if cases rise again when children head back to school or preschool in August and September.
Children who begin their vaccinations with the Pfizer shot this week could receive their third dose the week of Sept. 12 or later. Those who receive a first Moderna shot this week could complete their inoculation as soon as July 19.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, on CNN television on Tuesday, advised parents to take the virus seriously, saying that nearly 500 children had died and more than 30,000 children under 5 had been hospitalized since the pandemic began.
“It’s hard to predict which kids run into trouble. About half of these kids who have run into trouble with COVID have not had underlying symptoms,” Murthy said. “So that’s why every child deserves protection. We want parents to consider this vaccine strongly.”
Jha said on Twitter on Monday that the rollout for younger children differed from those for other age groups in that there were no mass vaccination sites, but there would be more inoculations done in doctors’ offices.
“Parents are clear they want to vaccinate their littlest ones in familiar settings – doctors’ offices, pharmacies, health clinics, and children’s hospitals,” he tweeted.
The vaccines began shipping on Friday and Saturday, Jha said, adding that more doctors’ offices and hospitals would begin receiving them on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.
Not all pharmacies will offer the shots to everyone in this age group. CVS Health Corp (CVS.N) will offer shots for children aged 18 months and up, while Walmart Inc (WMT.N) and Rite Aid Corp (RAD.N) will offer them to those aged 3 and older. Reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru, Katherine Jackson in Washington DC; Additional reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez, editing by Caroline Humer, Bernadette Baum, and Bill Berkrot.