By Ahmed Aboulenein and Alexandra Alper
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -More than 900,000 U.S. children aged 5 to 11 are expected to have received their first COVID-19 shot by the end of Wednesday, the White House said, as the government ramped up vaccinations of younger children.
The United States began administering Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine to children ages 5 to 11 on Nov. 3, the latest group to become eligible for the shots that provide protection against the illness to recipients and those around them.
"While our program is just fully up and running this week, by the end of the day today, we estimate that over 900,000 kids aged 5 through 11 will have already gotten their first shot," White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients said during a briefing with reporters.
Zients last week said that 15 million doses specifically formulated for that age group would be available this week and that the federal government had purchased enough supply for all 28 million eligible children.
"The first few days of the roll out were predictably difficult for individuals to find vaccine appointments for children," said Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
"But it does seem that it's becoming easier for children to get vaccinated as the major pharmacy chains, hospitals, and other organizations are increasing their ability to vaccinate."
Walgreens Boots Alliance said in a statement that it has immunized more than 200,000 children against COVID-19 and booked hundreds of thousands of appointments over the next few weeks.
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has inoculated 425 children since Nov. 3 and expects to soon be vaccinating around 90 children daily as it books more appointments, she said.
The 900,000 figure comes from a White House analysis of available data from pharmaceutical partners, some states, and localities, Zients said on Wednesday, adding that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet collected the full tally.
"This is the very beginning ... we expect more and more kids to get vaccinated across time," he said.
COVID-19 is the largest vaccine-preventable killer of children in that age group, with 66 U.S. children dying from it over the past year, CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said during the briefing.
She offered no timeline for when the CDC would have data on the number of younger children vaccinated.
The seven-day average of total COVID-19 cases in the United States was flat at about 73,300 over the past week, Walensky said, with the hospitalization rate also flat at 5,000 a day. The U.S. seven-day average of daily deaths fell 11% to about 1,000 per day.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Alexandra Alper; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Nick Zieminski, David Gregorio and Bill Berkrot)