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

Maine is moving more quickly to vaccinate young children against COVID-19 than most of the U.S. after a vaccine was authorized earlier this month, but significant disparities have emerged between counties.

Statewide, 16.8 percent of Maine kids between the ages of 5 and 11 had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That is higher than the national rate of 10 percent for that age group, announced by the White House on Wednesday.

But not all Maine counties are above the national rate. While more than a quarter of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have already gotten their first doses in Cumberland and Lincoln counties, eight counties have less than 10 percent of kids in that age group vaccinated as of Wednesday, with Somerset County the lowest at 4.8 percent.

Those differences largely mirror overall vaccination rates, with the counties that have the highest adult vaccination rates also seeing the greatest share of children vaccinated in the early going. But the current disparities are more dramatic among children than adults.

Federal regulators authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children on Nov. 2. The dosage of the vaccine is smaller than the vaccine used for adults. Although severe illness from COVID-19 is relatively rare among children, with only 26 kids younger than 10 hospitalized since the start of the pandemic, they can still contract and spread the virus. Infections among children have surged with the arrival of the delta variant this fall, with nearly half of total cases among kids between the ages of 5 and 9 having occurred since the start of September.

Maine has attempted to vaccinate children by offering school-based clinics across the state, as well as making the vaccine available at doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies and other health care sites. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the state was monitoring the disparities between counties, but it was too early to draw significant conclusions about whether access or reluctance played a significant role.

“We have made sure that there is access as widely as possible, be it through doctors’ offices, school-located clinics, commercial pharmacies, but it’s too early to tell whether there’s a systematic access problem, or whether more education is needed,” Shah said.