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Despite rocky rollout, more than 7 million Americans have received updated Covid-19 vaccines, HHS says

By Jacqueline Howard, CNN

(CNN) — This year’s uptake of the updated Covid-19 vaccine appears to be somewhat slower than last year’s, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 7 million Americans have received a dose of the latest vaccines, HHS said Thursday. The CDC recommended vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech for everyone 6 months and older on September 12; an updated vaccine from Novavax became available this month and is recommended for people 12 and over.

In comparison, when last year’s bivalent Covid-19 booster was available, more than 18 million people had received a dose by October 12, 2022, about six weeks after the CDC signed off on it, according to CDC data. By May, about 56.5 million people had received that booster, representing about 17% of the US population.

The new Covid-19 vaccines have been updated to target currently circulating coronavirus variants.

Almost 14 million doses have been shipped to pharmacies and other vaccination sites, with 91% of Americans 12 and older able to access the vaccines within five miles of where they live, HHS said in a statement. And more than 710,000 vaccines have been ordered through the CDC’s Vaccines for Children program, which provides vaccines to half of US children.

But some experts worry about the vaccines potentially not reaching children.

“We have about 10,000 babies a day in this country that become newly eligible for Covid-19 vaccines when they turn 6 months old, and we’re only vaccinating about 7,000 kids a week under the age of 4,” Dr. Michelle Fiscus, chief medical officer at the Association of Immunization Managers, said Wednesday during a virtual panel hosted by the nonprofit Covid-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project. She was referring to data from earlier in the year.

“So we have this growing population of young, unprotected children, and that not only impacts the lives of those children, but it really dilutes the herd immunity that we have in the community by increasing this population every single day of children who are unprotected,” Fiscus said. “This is a situation where choosing to vaccinate your own child can not just help them and the other members of your family but also can work to help the community at large.”

Some of the issues with the current vaccine rollout could be attributed to distribution delays.

Early in the fall vaccine campaign, many people reported having trouble finding doses or running into snags with insurance coverage.

The distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, “which has shifted to the private market, is a lot different than it was last year when the government was distributing them,” an HHS spokesperson said Thursday.

“The Biden-Harris Administration, through HHS, has been working directly with manufacturers and distributors to ensure that the vaccines are getting to pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, pediatricians, and other vaccination sites, including long-term care facilities,” the statement said. “Just as we did last vaccine season, we will be working to reach Americans where they are and inform them of the updated vaccines and where they can get them.”

There is also growing concern about many older adults not getting the new Covid-19 shot as well as not getting vaccinated against flu or respiratory syncytial virus, said Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

This year marks the first time that the United States has vaccines available against all three of those respiratory illnesses: Covid-19, flu and RSV.

“As we head into this respiratory virus season even deeper, we’re most worried about the older people getting protected,” Freeman said. “For anyone with underlying health issues, all three vaccines can prevent severe illness, hospitalization or death.”

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