Aadam Hameedi, 5, of Hicksville, gets second dose of the Pfizer...

Aadam Hameedi, 5, of Hicksville, gets second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Stony Brook Medicine’s Advanced Specialty Care in Commack on Nov. 26, 2021. Health experts on Long Island are worried that children 6 months to 4 years of age are not being vaccinated in time for school and day care. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The low number of children under 5 receiving the COVID-19 vaccine on Long Island has pediatricians worried kids will not be protected in time for school and another possible wave in the fall.

Just 4,727 children in the age group in Nassau and Suffolk counties have received a first dose of the vaccine, according to state data. That's 3.1% of the eligible population.

“I'm a little surprised and a little disappointed,” said Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief of Huntington Village Pediatrics. “Most people just don't understand that in the last wave, they were the ones that were hospitalized more than any other pediatric age group. Most people just really think that COVID doesn't affect young children and that couldn't be farther from the truth.”

On June 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its recommendation that all children 6 months through 4 years of age receive a COVID-19 vaccine. That opened up the vaccine to almost 20 million additional children across the country, the agency said.

         WHAT TO KNOW

  • The number of children under the age of 5 who have received the COVID-19 vaccine is still low, even though it has been available to them since mid-June. 
  • About 3.1% or 4,727 of the eligible population of children under the age of 5 on Long Island have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to figures from the state Department of Health. 
  • Local pediatricians are worried that young unvaccinated children won’t be protected from a possible COVID-19 wave in the fall and any community spread at their preschool or day care. 

The Moderna vaccine is a two-shot regimen administered one month apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVD-19 vaccine is a three-shot course for children in the youngest age group. The first two doses are given three weeks apart with the third at least 8 weeks after the second dose.

That time lag could explain some of the lower numbers for fully vaccinated children — on Long Island, 733 eligible children ages 4 and younger have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state Health Department. 

Across the country, vaccinations of children under 5 have lagged behind other age groups.

About 2.8% of children under the age of 5 in the United States, or about 544,000, had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of July 20, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

When KFF compared it with the same point in the earlier rollout of vaccines for children between the ages of 5 and 11, 5.3 million or 18% of children in that age group had received their first dose.

In New York, children younger than 5 have the lowest vaccination rates of all age groups, statistics show.

Less than 1% of kids four and younger, or 9,139, have been fully vaccinated, according to the state Health Department. More than 53,000 or about 4.7% of the eligible 1.1 million population has received at least one shot.

Surveys have shown many parents are reluctant to have children in this youngest age group vaccinated citing myriad reasons. Some said they wanted to wait several months while others point to figures showing children are less likely to become severely ill from COVID-19 than adults.

The CDC said that while most children with COVID-19 might have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, they can still become very ill and even die from the virus.

Dr. Matthew Harris, medical director of Northwell Health’s vaccine program and a pediatric emergency medicine specialist, said there has been an increase in positive COVID-19 cases, including children in this youngest age group.

“It really is absolutely important that pediatricians and family doctors continue to encourage vaccination for all their patients against COVID-19 and take every opportunity to counsel patients and parents about the benefits,” said Harris, a father of three who had his own infant son vaccinated in June.

Harris pointed out trends in the pandemic have shown upticks in COVID-19 vaccinations tend to follow increases in cases and hospitalizations.

“At that point, however, parents may have missed the ball,” he said.

Meltzer Krief, who sits on the executive council of the Long Island-Brooklyn/Queens chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said parents of young children under 5 might mistakenly think their child does not need to be vaccinated if they don’t attend preschool or day care.

“Parents have to realize, unless they live in a bubble, they could bring it home to their young children,” she said. “And those who are going to be in day care and preschool, where masks aren't required, that is where you’re going to be seeing a lot of transmission happening, particularly this new variant that really wasn't circulating in the spring … they're going to be sitting in classrooms, not really with any protection, transmitting this potentially very serious disease to each other.”

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