Families in New York City were preparing to vaccinate children younger than 5 against Covid-19 on Wednesday as the first doses were expected to become available after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the vaccines over the weekend.
In a city that was once the epicenter of the Covid pandemic, many parents have been eager to vaccinate the last age group still awaiting shots, the youngest children, and moved quickly to book appointments.
Some health providers planned to start offering vaccines to young children on Wednesday, including pharmacies like Walgreens, which serve children 3 and older. The city’s 10 vaccine hubs, which serve children 6 months and older, were also expected to open, and appointments were available on the city’s “Vaccine Finder” website.
On Tuesday, New York City moved from the high risk level for Covid-19 to medium as virus cases and hospitalization rates continue to fall. Broadway theaters will be allowed to drop their mask mandates starting July 1, and Mayor Eric Adams recently removed a mask mandate for toddlers.
Mr. Adams, a Democrat who took office in January, said that New Yorkers were doing the right things to contain the virus, including getting vaccinated, testing and wearing masks, and he said that vaccinating children under 5 was the next step.
“We know there remains no greater defense against this virus than vaccination, which is why we’re pleased that young children are now eligible for the protection they deserve, and can’t wait to begin under-5 vaccination,” Mr. Adams said in a statement on Tuesday.
Jami Wolf, the mother of a 7-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter who lives in South Slope in Brooklyn, said she was “extremely excited” about the arrival of vaccines for young children.
“We’ve been waiting for this for as long as the pandemic has started,” she said. “I was practically first in line when they rolled out the vaccines for the 5- to 12-year-olds, and I plan to be first in line, so to speak, for this rollout too.”
But on Tuesday, Ms. Wolf had a difficult time finding an appointment for before the weekend.
“It’s frustrating — it’s aggravating,” she said.
The mayor’s office said that appointments would be available for the city’s vaccine hubs on Tuesday at 9 p.m., but the website did not load until almost 9:45 p.m. Mark Levine, the Brooklyn borough president, said of the delays that it was “unacceptable to put parents through this.”
Some parents said they were more cautious about vaccinating younger children. Andrea Thomas, 35, a mother who lives in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, said that she had “no reservations whatsoever” about vaccinating her 13-year-old son and was more hesitant now about her 4-year-old daughter. Her entire family caught the coronavirus a month and a half ago, giving her daughter some immunity, and she is concerned about possible side effects.
“If she hadn’t just had it, I’d feel differently,” she said.
The number of daily cases in the city has dropped to about 2,800, from about 4,300 last month, according to city data, though the real number is likely much higher because the city’s tally does not include most home tests. About 740 people are hospitalized with the virus in the city.
President Biden on Tuesday marked what White House officials have cast as the unofficial beginning of the U.S. vaccination campaign for children younger than 5, visiting a site in Washington, D.C., to meet with families and children as some shots were administered.
“Finally, some peace of mind,” Mr. Biden said at the White House after the event in remarks celebrating the availability of shots, calling it a “monumental step forward” in the nation’s pandemic response.
Federal health officials, eager to showcase the progress the United States has made in fending off deadly cases of the coronavirus, have worked for weeks to prepare parents and doctors for immunizing the youngest children, a population of around 20 million that has waited 18 months after adults first became eligible for the shots.
The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last week cleared the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots for young children following votes from independent expert committees.
Mr. Biden said that he met with around 17 families at the Washington vaccination site with children who had already received a shot or were about to. A federal website, vaccines.gov, had updated on Tuesday to show locations where vaccines could be found, he said.
Arsema Desta, a registered nurse in Washington helping with local pediatric vaccination efforts, appeared with the president at the White House and said that shots for young children were important “because it allows multigenerational households to ensure everyone in the household is vaccinated.”
The Biden administration has already made at least 10 million doses available to states and health providers and expects to lean heavily on pediatricians and primary care offices to administer them, as is typical in pediatric vaccination campaigns. Pharmacies and community health centers, among other providers, will also vaccinate the youngest children.
But as of a deadline last week, only 2.5 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine had been ordered, around half of what the federal government offered, as well as about 1.3 million Moderna doses, about a quarter of what was offered.
Dr. Deborah M. Greenhouse, a pediatrician in Columbia, S.C., said that as of Tuesday afternoon, her practice had still been waiting on about 1,000 doses to arrive. She said parents she had encountered so far fell into three categories: those knocking down the doors to get the vaccine; those interested but needing some consultation; and families completely resistant.
She said that lower uptake among 5- to 11-year-olds was a “real concern” she and colleagues had, but were hoping to overcome with younger children. Only around 37 percent of kids in the age group have received at least one dose.
Pediatricians are especially important for families in making the choice, she said.
“Once it’s rolling out and you have a lot of the early adopter groups, once their kids have gotten the vaccine and there’s more data and bigger numbers, that’s what’s going to attract” families waiting to decide, she said.
Speaking at the White House Tuesday, Mr. Biden again warned of a lack of funding for the federal pandemic response, something he suggested could hinder future attempts to quash possible surges. Federal health officials have pleaded for months with lawmakers to provide more money for vaccines and treatments. But negotiations have stalled, even turning publicly hostile at a Senate hearing last week.
Mr. Biden also appeared to take a swipe at Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Health providers in the state were allowed to belatedly order shots for young children last week after Florida became the only state to decline preordering, White House officials have said. State officials denied that they had reversed their position and said that they had maintained a policy to allow orders after F.D.A. authorization.
“Let’s be clear: Elected officials shouldn’t get in the way and make it more difficult for parents who want their children to be vaccinated and want to protect them and those around them,” Mr. Biden said. “This is no time for politics. It’s about parents being able to do everything they can to keep their children safe.”
Health workers across the United States began to give Covid-19 vaccinations to children 6 months to 5 years old on Tuesday, another milestone in the coronavirus pandemic that came 18 long months after adults first began to receive injections against the virus.
But the response from parents was notably muted, with little indication of the excitement and long lines that greeted earlier vaccine rollouts.
An April poll showed that less than a fifth of parents of children under 5 were eager to get access to the shot right away. Early adopters in this age group appeared to be outliers.
At 9 a.m., Dayton Children’s Hospital in Ohio became one of the first sites to vaccinate the youngest children, with the three-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine meant for this age group. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also endorsed a second option for young children, a two-dose regimen from Moderna.
Brian Wentzel, 38, brought his 2-year-old son, Bodhi, at 9:15 a.m. The boy clutched a stuffed dog and bravely took the shot in his leg. His mother is a physician at the hospital.
“It was important to get him vaccinated,” Mr. Wentzel said. “It is extremely effective at preventing severe illness.”
At a White House news conference on Tuesday afternoon, President Biden called the expanded vaccines “a monumental step forward.”
“The United States,” he continued, “is now the first country in the world to offer safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months old.”
He encouraged all Americans to get vaccinated and said parents should speak to a family doctor if they had questions. In additional to doctors’ offices, hospitals and clinics, the pharmacy chains CVS, Walgreens and Walmart would soon offer vaccines to the youngest children, Mr. Biden said.
The vaccines did not yet appear to be widely available. Some pediatricians’ offices reported that they had not yet received the shots or that they planned to deliver the vaccine mostly at regularly scheduled well visits.
Yet clamoring from families is limited. The reasons for parental vaccine hesitation are varied. Two years into the pandemic, many families have become resigned to living with the virus, and a majority of American children have already been infected, mostly experiencing mild symptoms.
Jill Cowan contributed to this report.