On Tuesday, doctors, nurses and health workers across the United States began to give Covid-19 vaccinations to children 6 months to 5 years old, the final group of Americans to gain access to the shots.
It was a milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, 18 long months after adults first began to receive shots against the virus. But the response was notably muted from parents, 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 access the shot right away. Early adopters in this age group appeared to be outliers.
At 9 am, 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 the 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 am Bodhi clutched a small 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.”
In many places, including Florida, New York, Boston and Los Angeles, the vaccines did not yet appear to be widely available. Public health websites showed few or no appointments for this age group. Some pediatricians’ offices reported that they had not yet received the shots.
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 the majority of American children have already been infected, mostly experiencing mild symptoms.
President Biden is to make remarks about the new phase of the US vaccination effort on Tuesday about 3:45 pm Eastern time. He and the first lady, Jill Biden, will also visit a vaccination clinic in Washington DC earlier in the afternoon.
While the vaccines remain highly effective at protecting against severe illness and death, they have become less effective at preventing infection as the virus has mutated, leading to disappointment and some cynicism toward the shots from the public. Some parents have encountered widespread misinformation about the risks of the shots, while others are concerned about rare side effects, or simply do not want their children to be among the first to get a new vaccination.
That is the case even though parents and young children have endured some of the longest-running public health and educational restrictions, owing to their lack of access to a vaccine. And that is especially true in liberal-leaning states and cities, which took a more cautious approach to the virus.
Many child-care centers and preschools still require masking and long quarantines for children who come into close contact with the virus, even though K-12 schools have generally lifted those precautions. Parents are exhausted after years of disrupted routines, and report that their young children have never experienced school or socializing under normal circumstances.
Still, the overall pediatric vaccine campaign has disappointed many public health experts. Fewer than 30 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds have received two shots.
At a splash pad in West St. Paul, Minn., Jen Wilkerson, 28, a barista, said she did not plan to vaccinate her son Jaxson, 4, even though she is vaccinated.
She said she had worried after he developed lumps in his leg after two previous vaccines for other diseases, and recalled that Jaxson had not gotten sick when she contracted Covid-19 last year.
“He’s a little window licker,” she said. “With how strong his immune system is, I don’t feel the need for him to get vaccinated right now. I’m waiting for him to get older. I’ll wait till he’s 10 or so.”
In Durant, Miss., Monique Moore, 39, a teacher, said she would wait several months for her 4-year-old son, Rashun, to turn 5 before getting him vaccinated.
“I didn’t want him to be in the first batch to do it,” she said, “but I didn’t want to not do it either.”
Other parents said that vaccination would allow them to finally move on from a difficult period of their lives.
In Brookline, Mass., Jenn Erickson, 40, quit her job when her son Miro was born at the start of the pandemic. She has “zero hesitation” about getting him vaccinated, she said, which would allow her to confidently enroll her son in day care while she returns to work.
“It feels like a lot of the world has moved on without us,” Ms. Erickson said. “The kids who were born during the pandemic are finally getting some protection. There’s going to need to be a massive celebration for the parents who have had to hold this massive stress.”
Kevin Williams, Christina Capecchi, Ellen B. Meacham, Catherine McGloin and Adeel Hassan contributed reporting.