AUGUSTA, MAINE -- 12/29/21 -- The Goodrich family of Norridgewock answers questions before the children get their first COVID-19 vaccinations at the Augusta Armory on Wednesday Dec. 29, 2021. From left are Justin, 10, mother Cheyenne, Margo, 8, and Allee, 12. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine – Maine set new records for COVID-19 cases among children younger than 10 in December as the virus continues to take a toll on the state’s unvaccinated population and child vaccinations lag.

The high infection levels come as children younger than 5 remain ineligible for the vaccine, while vaccinations have stalled among children between the ages of 5 and 11 in recent weeks. Cases could pose a particular challenge as school districts look to return from holiday break.

Between Dec. 1 and Dec. 27, the COVID-19 infection rate among children younger than 12 — about 250 cases per 10,000 kids — was more than double the rate among adults 20 and older, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Case rates among children have generally been higher than rates for adults since May, when all adults became eligible to be fully vaccinated, but the gap in December was greater than any month. Infections among adults dropped slightly in December over November, while cases among children and teens accounted for the entire increase in cases over the two months.

The most notable rise in infections was among children younger than 5, with more than 1,200 cases recorded in December, far surpassing the previous monthly record of 964 in November. Since Sep. 1, about 1 out of every 19 kids in that age group has tested positive for the virus, according to state data. They remain ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

Although rates of severe disease among kids remain much lower than among adults, they are highest among the youngest children. Since March 2020, 31 children younger than 5 have been hospitalized with the virus. December also set a record for the number of kids younger than 12 hospitalized with the virus in a single month, at eight.

The increase in cases among Maine children also fits with a national trend. Across the U.S., COVID-19 cases among children increased 7 percent in the second half of December, according to an analysis from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Lower vaccination rates among kids are likely one reason for higher case rates in Maine, state data suggest. Across all age groups between Dec. 3 and Jan. 3, about 1 out of every 26 Maine people not fully vaccinated tested positive for COVID-19, according to a Bangor Daily News analysis of Maine CDC data, compared to 1 out of every 108 fully vaccinated people. Just 30 percent of kids between ages 5 and 11 are fully vaccinated compared to 65 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 19 and 80 percent of adults aged 20 and older.

The record cases among kids come as the omicron variant continues to make inroads in Maine, although most cases in December likely reflect the spread of the delta variant, which has been the predominant strain of the virus in Maine since late summer, according to state data.