Cameron Strout, 10, left, Maxwell Strout, 7, center, and Samuel Hinrichs, 7, right, hold up their U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards outside of the Brewer Walgreens they got the COVID-19 vaccine at on Nov. 7, 2021. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

More than 3,000 younger Maine kids got their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the first week after it received federal approval, with nearly half of those shots in highly vaccinated Cumberland County.

The total amounts to just over 3 percent of the roughly 96,000 Maine kids between ages 5 and 11. Vaccination rates are likely to pick up more dramatically in the next few weeks, as appointment availability has been limited in the early going and the state is working to roll out more school-based clinics.

Kids in Cumberland County were getting vaccinated at the highest rate over the last week, with nearly 1,400 children receiving the vaccine, accounting for about 6.6 percent of those in the 5-11 age group, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. By contrast, only a handful of kids in Franklin and Piscataquis counties had received the shot.

The early differences in child vaccination rates between counties likely reflect some disparities in initial availability of the vaccine. Walgreens was the only large provider offering vaccination appointments for children immediately after the vaccine was authorized, and only at some locations. Cumberland County also has the highest vaccination rate among adults, with more than 90 percent of people aged 12 and older having received the shot.

Nationwide, more than 128,000 kids between the ages of 5 and 11 have now received the shot, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccinations will likely pick up considerably both in Maine and across the U.S. as the vaccine for children becomes more widely available and more schools offer it to students. Dozens of Maine schools have clinics scheduled for this week or next, according to a list on the state’s website.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children, which received final authorization from federal regulators on Nov. 2, is a smaller dose than the version of the shot given to adults. While relatively few Maine children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and none have died, children can still catch and transmit the virus, and outbreaks this fall have forced a number of schools to temporarily switch back to remote learning.

Since the start of the pandemic, more than 4,700 Maine children between the ages of 5 and 9 have contracted COVID-19, according to state data. About 1,800 of those cases have occurred since Sep. 1, driven by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.