RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The push to vaccinate children younger than 5 for COVID-19 in North Carolina isn’t exactly off to a fast start.

But are we doing better than our neighboring states and the rest of the country, as the state’s top doctor said?

THE CLAIM: Speaking Thursday to a monthly meeting of local health directors, state Health Director Dr. Betsey Tilson said North Carolina is “above the national average and (has) the highest vaccination rates for this age group in the southeast region of the U.S.”

THE FACTS: She’s actually right — but that depends on how you define the Southeast.

The update this week from the state Department of Health and Human Services shows 3 percent of children younger than 5 having received at least one dose of the vaccine since it became available in mid-June.

That’s a slow start, as CBS 17 reported previously. But it does beat the national average.

Nationally, just under 3 percent of children in that age group have gotten a dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC counts 19 million children under 5 and says about 544,000 of them have received a shot.

So, her national claim checks out.

What about the regional one?

It wasn’t entirely clear which states she counts as being in the Southeast, but it’s likely she was referring to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ 10 regions.

(Source: USDHHS)

That federal agency slots North Carolina into an eight-state region in the southeast corner of the continental U.S.

CBS 17 checked the COVID vaccination dashboard for every state in the region because the CDC does not post state-by-state breakdowns of those shots for that age group.

And of those states, North Carolina does have the highest vaccination rate among children under 5.

In fact, CBS 17 found among the six other states that post those rates for that age group — Mississippi does not — none has even reached 2 percent.

The best of the rest was Georgia (1.8 percent), followed by South Carolina (1.2 percent). Both Alabama (0.6 percent) and Tennessee (0.1 percent) are way behind.

But if you include Virginia in your definition of the Southeast, Tilson’s statement becomes less true.

In that state, 5.4 percent of children that age have gotten a shot.

The bigger issue with the rate in the state is that it’s so far behind where other age groups were after a month.

(Photo credit: NCDHHS)

At that point, 13 percent of the slightly older children — those between 5 and 11 — had received their first shot.

It’s timely now with the BA.5 omicron variant driving the latest surge that has half of the state’s 100 counties facing the highest levels of COVID-19 in the communities, according to the newest CDC map.

Dr. Michael Smith, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Duke University School of Medicine, says the omicron variants sent more children to hospitals with upper respiratory sicknesses, including upper airway disease and a bark cough.

“I think now we need to refocus the message on the fact that kids can get sick with COVID. And that's why it's so important to vaccinate them,” Smith said.

CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.