‘A great start’: The kids lead the way in latest stage of NC’s vaccine push

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The kids are leading the way in North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccine push.

In the nine days since children between the ages of 5 and 11 became eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, state data show they have become the dominant demographic.

Consider:

— Nearly 42,000 have gotten their first shot, after more than 17,000 were added to the total in Friday’s update.

— More than 70 percent of all the first doses given across the state this week have gone to kids.

— Of the more than 110,000 total shots given here since eligibility opened to the 5-11 age group last week, 37 percent of them went to kids.

— And 5 percent of the more than 900,000 kids that age in the state are already partially vaccinated.

“I think we’re off to a great start,” Dr. Peyton Thompson, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said.

The White House also said nearly one million kids across the country got shots during the first week of eligibility.

The bump we’re seeing in the statewide numbers mirrors the spikes that show up every time the vaccine opens up to a new group — from the staggering five-group rollout last winter to the surge in shots we saw when the 12-to-15-year-olds became eligible back in May.

“We’ll see this initial bump, and then we’ll see sort of a leveling out,” Thompson said.

And one reason this surge might look bigger is because the pace has slowed to such a crawl for everyone 12 and older.

“It’s sort of a steady but slow trickle as compared to the children, who this is their first opportunity,” Dr. Sudha Raman said, an assistant professor in the department of population health sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine.

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state isn’t setting a goal or target percentage for vaccinations in the 5-11 age group.

State leaders in April said they would lift the indoor mask mandate once two-thirds of adults were at least partially vaccinated — a goal that was abandoned the following month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendations.

That was also well before the more contagious delta variant changed things.

“I don’t think we know exactly what the right number is, in terms of everyone being vaccinated,” Cohen said. “We need to have a very high level of immunity amongst everyone in order to really see this COVID become something that we can live with. So we want to see a lot of folks get vaccinated so they can protect themselves, their children, and others.”

Experts said every vaccination results in extra protection for everyone else, even though it seems unlikely that we will reach a level high enough for true herd immunity, which could be roughly 85 percent.

“We should think that children getting vaccinated are really going to make a difference for smaller communities where children are a large part of — in schools, neighborhoods, and, and especially for those adults and families that have someone at high risk,” Raman said. “Getting children vaccinated kind of closes some doors that COVID can have into their family and communities. And I think that would make a big difference for the community at home.”

The surge in vaccinations among children has pushed the partial vaccination for the state’s entire population up a percentage point — with 60 percent of the state’s 10.4 million people have received at least one shot.

“And I expect that number to go up significantly,” Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International, said.

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