Jesse Cinquegrano holds her 19-month-old son Wilder Lynch, while her other son, Bastian Lynch, 3, shows off his post-shot bandage, at a walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Sanford on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Cumberland County is among the leading counties nationally in COVID-19 vaccinations for children ages four and under, the newest group eligible for the shot.

More than 1,700 children in the southern Maine county aged six months up through four years have received their first COVID-19 vaccine shot. That’s about 12 percent of the county’s 14,000 children in that age group, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention data.

That is six times the national rate, with Cumberland County ranking 23 out of around 3,200 counties and county-equivalents in the U.S in COVID-19 vaccinations for children under five, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around 40 counties did not have data available.

The numbers show that many in the Portland area continue to take COVID-19 protocols seriously, even during a summer where case counts have been relatively low and the pandemic is out of mind for many.

Vaccine hesitancy can be especially strong when it comes to young children. Though many parents fear side effects, the medical community is practically unanimous in seeing the shots as safe and effective for those under five.

The numbers are in line with efforts by Mainers of all ages to get vaccinated since vaccines became available in December 2020, Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said.

“Given that strong track record, it’s not surprising that the state’s most populous county would rank high nationally in vaccinating its youngest residents,” Long said. “We commend and thank parents for taking quick action to vaccinate their youngest children.”

The Maine CDC is continuing to prioritize making appointments as easy as possible, including partnering with pediatricians and offering no-appointment vaccinations at sites such as one on Main Street in Sanford, Long said.

But the statistics also showcase the broad divisions that continue to exist in Maine on the COVID-19 vaccine. Only six out of the 710 children age four and under in Piscataquis County have gotten a shot. That’s less than one percent.

In fact, nearly half (49 percent) of all children four and younger in Maine who have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine live in Cumberland County, despite them making up just 22 percent of the state’s share of that group.

The only counties with vaccination rates for young children that are five percent or above are Cumberland (12 percent), Sagadahoc (8 percent), Knox (6 percent) and York (5 percent).

The highest rate nationally was in Marin County, California, which is across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, where 21 percent of those under five have received at least one shot, according to U.S. CDC data.

Approximately 500 American counties didn’t report any vaccinations for those under five, though many of those are sparsely populated rural counties.

Dr. Diana Lapp, medical director of Greater Portland Health’s location at Park Avenue, said she had not seen an especially large surge in interest since the health center began offering Moderna shots last week, though they are only offering them to patients before expanding to the general public.

That could be for various reasons: many parents might feel it is unnecessary because children are less likely to get seriously ill from the virus, Lapp said. The authorization for the new group also comes at a time when cases have not been especially high.

Still, Lapp said the health center is strongly recommending it to patients. Though it’s still early on in the process, she expects the rates to grow over time.

“As it gets to just be more routine, it will become part of routine vaccinations similar to the flu,” Lapp said.