Empty bottles of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

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Child vaccinations in Philly have nearly doubled over the past two weeks. The city’s pediatric rate still trails the national average, but it’s catching up.

As of Wednesday, Philadelphia Department of Health data showed at least 10% of Philadelphia kids between the ages of 5 and 11 had gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine from Pfizer.

That rate, which is already more than 85% higher than the number reported two weeks prior, could be an undercount, Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said Wednesday, because the city is waiting for some pediatric vaccination data from the state. (Philly and Pa. have separate COVID vaccine programs.)

Nationally, CDC data shows about 14% of children had gotten at least one dose as of Tuesday. About 28 million Americans fall into that age group – almost one tenth the country’s population.

Vaccinating children helps protect the entire family, including grandparents and people who are more vulnerable to the virus because of underlying conditions, noted Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at CHOP.

“The virus is more likely to kill children than the flu,” Offit said. “It’s more likely to cause hospitalization in young children, even prolonged hospitalization, and intensive care unit admissions.”

More than 8,300 children ages 5 to 11 have been hospitalized in the U.S., with approximately 170 deaths.

Child vaccination rates in Philly vary greatly by race and ethnicity. While nearly 1 in 5 white and Asian 5- to 11-year-olds have started COVID vaccination, only 1 in 15 Hispanic kids have gotten the vaccine, and fewer than 1 in 20 Black children have.

Among adults in Philadelphia, the disparity has shifted over time. For residents over 18, the city’s white population was behind only the Asian population in vaccine rate in the early months after the vaccine became available. White adult vaccination rates are now close to even with or below those of Philly’s Black population, while Hispanic residents’ rates have continued to rise.

Bettigole expects the rates among children will also even out — and the city is working to make sure it happens sooner rather than later.

“In the first days, we saw the parents who were very eager to run out and get the vaccine,” said Bettigole, adding that the department is working with community partners who have crews around the city, running vaccine clinics and sharing information, especially in areas where vaccination rates have been lower.

“There’s sort of a tipping point,” Bettigole said, “where people start to know other people who have done this, and the work gets a little bit easier as people have friends, coworkers, family members” who’ve gotten the vaccine.

The largest provider of children’s vaccines in Philly so far has been pharmacies, which have given twice as many doses as hospitals, per city data.

That was expected too, said health department spokesperson James Garrow, but “we’re hoping to see healthcare providers, such as pediatricians, start to give out more as they work through the appointments they’ve set.”

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...