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First Lady Jill Biden has kicked off a national campaign to persuade parents and guardians to vaccinate their 5- to 11-year-old children against the coronavirus.

On Monday, Biden and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, visited Franklin Sherman Elementary School in Virginia, which became the first place where healthy American children were vaccinated against polio as part of a nationwide clinical trial in 1954, according to The New York Times .

Biden and Murthy visited while the school ran a COVID-19 vaccine clinic, where parents and children lined up to get shots, the newspaper reported. Biden will visit pediatric vaccination clinics across the country in coming weeks to encourage people to get inoculated.

“This vaccine is the best way to protect your children against COVID-19,” Biden told parents during her visit.

“It’s been thoroughly reviewed and rigorously tested. It’s safe,” she said. “It’s free, symptom of topamax depression and it’s available for every child in this country.”

The school saw a high demand for appointments on Monday, the Times reported. The school has 355 students and quickly filled all 260 slots offered during the clinic. Biden and Murthy handed out stickers to students who received shots and spoke to families.

“The truth is that COVID is not harmless in children,” Murthy said. “We have tragically lost hundreds of children to the pandemic.”

The Biden administration has shipped 15 million pediatric doses across the country to doctors’ offices, children’s hospitals, community health centers, pharmacies, and schools. The goal is to vaccinate the nation’s 28 million children between ages 5-11, according to the Times.

So far, more than 360,000 children under age 12 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the latest CDC data, which primarily comes from clinical trials. The CDC will release new data on Wednesday that includes how many children have been vaccinated during the recent campaign rollout, the newspaper reported.

The FDA authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s lower-dose pediatric vaccine for ages 5-11 at the end of October, and the CDC endorsed it last week. Public health officials view vaccinating young children as a critical step toward controlling the pandemic by protecting families, particularly vulnerable family members.

The Biden administration hopes that schools will play a major role in the vaccine rollout among children, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday, Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, and Miguel Cardona, the secretary of education, sent a letter to school superintendents and elementary school principals across the country to urge them to encourage vaccination and hold clinics. They reminded school districts that they can tap into billions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds to support the vaccination efforts, the AP reported.

In New York City, public schools have already opened vaccination sites for 5- to 11-year-olds, according the Times . The demand was high on Monday morning, with parents sometimes waiting for hours to get their kids vaccinated. The city hosted half-day clinics in 200 schools and is continuing a weeklong effort to bring vaccine clinics to each of its 1,000 schools that serve elementary-aged students.

City officials said they were caught off-guard by the high demand, which surpassed the interest at school-based vaccine clinics for teenagers earlier this year. They pledged to return to schools where children were turned away when supplies ran out, the newspaper reported.

“We laid in supply and staffing for the amount of demand we expected,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during a news briefing.

“If we’re seeing more demand, well, that’s a good thing,” he said. “But we got to catch up with it quickly.”

The Biden administration has said that is has secured enough pediatric vaccine doses for every U.S. child between ages 5-11 and plans to ramp up distribution this week at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and school clinics, according to The Washington Post .

Although some states have laid the groundwork to mandate vaccines in children, that likely won’t happen until sometime next year, if at all, the newspaper reported. What’s more, schools won’t mandate vaccines until the FDA and CDC give full approval.

Since the pandemic began, at least 94 children between ages 5-11 have died from COVID-19, the AP reported. More than 8,300 have been hospitalized, and more than 5,000 have developed a serious inflammatory condition linked to the coronavirus.

“Parenthood and worrying go hand-in-hand — it’s just what we do,” Biden told parents during her school visit on Monday.

“So I can’t promise you that the dangers of the world will become any less frightening. Just wait until your kids start driving!” she said. “But with this vaccine, we can take away at least one of those worries. A big one.”

Sources:

New York Times: “Jill Biden Kicks Off Covid Vaccine Campaign for Young Children,” “N.Y.C. public schools open vaccination sites for 5- to 11-year-olds.”

CDC: “COVID Data Tracker: Demographic Characteristics of People Receiving COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.”

Associated Press: “Feds urge schools to provide COVID-19 shots, info for kids.”

Washington Post: “More than 360,000 children under 12 have already received a coronavirus vaccine

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