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A pediatric dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is seen at an Oklahoma County Health Department Vaccine Clinic in Oklahoma City on Nov. 17, 2021.

A pediatric dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is seen at an Oklahoma County Health Department Vaccine Clinic in Oklahoma City on Nov. 17, 2021. (Nick Oxford/Bloomberg)

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Eighteen months after a New York nurse received the first U.S. coronavirus vaccination, immunizations became available Tuesday for about 19 million children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, the last group of Americans to be afforded that protection.

Pediatricians, drugstores, hospitals and community vaccination centers began to administer first doses of two vaccines to children: the Pfizer-BioNTech product to children ages 6 months through 4 years; and the Moderna vaccine to children 6 months through 5 years old.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden were scheduled to visit a Washington, D.C., health clinic Tuesday afternoon to highlight the recommendation that even the youngest children need to be vaccinated.

Some parents were already at the city's facilities Tuesday morning. Chinmay Hegde's 14-month old daughter Ada was the first child to receive a shot Tuesday morning at Children's National Hospital. She winced as the needle went in, but it wasn't as bad as her routine vaccinations.

"The last time we came here she ended up getting five shots in the same day," Hegde said. "I think the fact that there was only one she was like, 'Oh great, good deal.'"

At a city-run COVID center about two miles from the U.S. Capitol, a line of parents and strollers snaked around the corner as Asia Perazich waited with her 3-year-old son Mica and 1-year-old daughter Zia.

"I wish it had happened sooner," Perazich said as Mica doodled in a watercolor book. "It'll be nice to be able to take them to a restaurant and not worry."

In Houston, Texas, Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children's Hospital, said: "We began vaccinating the first children at 6 a.m. We have shots in arms now. We have hundreds of children lining up and our goal is to get this vaccine to thousands of children in the Greater Houston area and Texas.

"The children are handling it as well or better than the adults," he added.

Nancy Wyss of Chicago said she scheduled an appointment to vaccinate her three-year-old daughter next week. Wyss said she has been waiting for this moment for the "health and protection" of her daughter and so the family can feel safer when they visit the girl's grandparents.

Wyss said the vaccine will also help "my own sanity." Wyss said her daughter's day care currently closes if a child or teacher gets coronavirus; once children are vaccinated they will keep the center open if there is a case. The vaccine will also ease Wyss' worries around flying with an unvaccinated child.

"We are going on a trip at the beginning of August, so it makes us more comfortable flying with her and seeing her grandparents. It's exciting. We've been waiting a long time," she said.

For parents who have been eager to vaccinate their children, Tuesday was the end of a long, difficult period when babies, toddlers and preschool-aged children did not have access to vaccines that have proved highly effective in preventing death and hospitalization for the rest of the population.

But a Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor poll released in May found them to be a distinct minority. Eighteen percent of parents with children younger than 5 said they were eager to get the youngsters vaccinated immediately. More than a third of parents — 38 percent — said they planned to see how the vaccine works in other children, and 27 percent reported they would "definitely not" have their children vaccinated. Eleven percent said they would do so if required.

The survey was taken before the Food and Drug Administration found the vaccines safe and effective for the youngest children and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave them the green light Saturday.

About 13.5 million children have tested positive for the virus, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, offering them some protection against it. According to federal health data that analyzed blood tests, the number is even higher — by the end of February it showed that three out of four children nationwide had been infected with the coronavirus.

But health authorities say all children should be vaccinated, because it is the best way to provide children with durable protection and reduce the chances of another infection and complications.

Children are less likely than other age groups to become seriously ill from the virus, but they are not invulnerable. More than 1,000 have died, more than 40,00 0 have been hospitalized and more than 8,500 have suffered a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which can cause inflammation of the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, eyes and other organs, according to the CDC.

Houston parent Brittany Kruger said Tuesday that she will not be getting her children vaccinated.

"My children have had COVID and the only reason we knew is because we had it, so we tested them. They showed no symptoms, much like the majority of children we know," she said. "I feel that my children, at their ages, have very little risk of side-effects from COVID. In fact, I am more fearful of what a shot that's newer to the market would do in the long term."

Almost 67 percent of the U.S. population is vaccinated — a proportion that has barely increased in recent months despite the efforts of government and private health officials. The virus has killed more than 1 million Americans, the largest known total of any nation in the world.

Ken Hoffman in Houston and Mark Guarino in Chicago contributed to this report.

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