COVID-19 vaccination rates among U.S. children ages 5 to 11...

COVID-19 vaccination rates among U.S. children ages 5 to 11 are lagging behind levels for older youths and adults, according to a new CDC study.   Credit: Howard Schnapp

Even though most children nationwide live within five miles of a COVID-19 vaccine provider, vaccination rates for those ages 5 to 11 continue to lag behind older youths and adults, according to results of a new study released Thursday

The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked how accessible the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine was for American children in the weeks and months after its approval in late-October. Researchers found that as of mid-January, 92% of children across the country live within five miles of a provider, nearly half of which were pharmacies.

"To maximize pediatric vaccination opportunities," the report said, "federal, state, local, and pharmacy partners developed a robust network of providers trained to serve pediatric populations and best manage the vaccine given product and supply considerations, with particular attention focused on ensuring access in the most underserved communities at risk for COVID-19-related illness and death."

Vaccination rates among young children remain low compared to older youths and adults — even with increased access — largely because of vaccine hesitancy among parents and caregivers, the report said.

What to know

  • Most children nationwide live within five miles of a COVID-19 vaccine provider, but vaccination rates for those ages 5 to 11 continue to lag behind older youths and adults. 
  • Vaccination rates among young children remain low largely because of vaccine hesitancy among parents and caregivers.
  • The rate among children on Long Island has continued to tick up in recent weeks.

Traveling five miles is a high burden for families who lack access to a vehicle, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital. She urged health officials to bring vaccination sites to alternate locations with easier access for parents and children.

"While it sounds easy, five miles for a family without transportation is quite far," she said.

Childhood vaccination rates are particularly low in communities designated by the CDC as having "high social vulnerability," the report said, but rates in those areas have improved over time. These are areas facing higher rates of poverty, lack of transportation and crowded housing.

Data from the CDC showed that vaccination rates among children on Long Island have continued to tick up in recent weeks.

The percentage of Long Island children ages 5 to 11 who have received at least one vaccine dose increased from 35.3% on Feb. 24 to 36.2% on Mar. 9, the data showed. The rate among Long Island children ages 12 to 17 increased from 78.6% to 79.1% over the same time period, according to the data. About 95% of adults in Nassau and Suffolk counties have received at least one shot, the CDC data showed.

Children under five are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.

To improve vaccine confidence, the CDC suggested relying on "trusted messengers," including faith and community leaders who can attest to the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.

Nachman and other Long Island health experts pointed to several reasons for stagnating vaccination rates among young children.

Approval of the pediatric vaccine occurred shortly before the omicron variant surge, Nachman said, which likely infected many children, providing them with short-term natural immunity and temporarily delaying vaccination. With positivity rates now low, she said, many parents feel little immediate incentive to vaccinate their children.

"It's a very complicated problem," she said. "The fact that we have such a short memory of how sick some kids are when they do get COVID is really pushing down people's acknowledgment that COVID is endemic and will be back at us in the fall or the winter."

COVID-19 "fatigue," particularly over the past six months, has also contributed to low vaccination rates, said Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of the Northwell Health Vaccine Program.

"A lot will be dictated by the next variant that emerges and how sick that makes children and adults and how communicable it is," Harris said. "Right now we are in a lull after a very significant omicron surge. My experience with vaccination in the past two years is that vaccine efforts pick up in response to a resurgence of the disease."

Meanwhile, the statewide COVID positivity rate on Wednesday reached its lowest point since July 20, according to the office of Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The statewide rate was 1.45% on a seven-day average, according to state Health Department data. Long Island's seven-day positivity rate was 1.52%. There were 13 deaths statewide, including two each in Nassau and Suffolk, the data showed.

With Matt Clark

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