RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — In the push to get young children vaccinated for COVID-19, North Carolina got off to a strong start — only to have it drop off in a hurry.

Doctors expected those vaccinations to level off eventually — but are disappointed it happened so fast.

“I was hopeful that we would see a good at least 30 percent of kids vaccinated by this point,” said Dr. Peyton Thompson, a pediatric infectious disease expert at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Instead, after an encouraging beginning about six weeks ago, the numbers now are barely half that.

Only 17 percent of the state’s roughly 900,000 kids between 5 and 11 years old have gotten their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

That adds up to about 156,000 of them. But some important context: more got that first shot during the first two weeks it was offered (82,400) than in the last month combined (73,600).

“I think what we saw was that the really willing people came first to get the vaccine,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International.

The vaccination rate slowed down significantly, increasing by just three percentage points during the past two weeks after it was at 14 percent on Dec. 3.

That’s why state Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen made mention of it earlier this week.

“Our vaccine rates in our children, particularly 5 to 11, are very low,” she said.

(Source: NCDHHS)

The state tracks those rates for seven age groups, and those rates go up as the age increases. For example, 95 percent of people 75 and older have gotten their first shot — as compared to 62 percent of those between 25 and 49.

The gap is even more obvious when you move the cutoff line to the age of 18.

A total of 73 percent of the state’s adults have gotten at least a shot, compared to roughly 30 percent of those 17 and under.

“It does seem like there’s a disconnect, right?” Thompson said. “Because we know that the majority, 70-plus percent of Americans are vaccinated now. And so why is that there’s still this hesitation with children?”

MacDonald says part of the reason could trace back to one of the narratives around COVID: When children do catch it, their cases tend to be milder than they are for older, more vulnerable people.

“And that’s really led, probably, to a lot of people thinking that kids are just not that at risk for complicated COVID and therefore weighing the risks of a vaccine against not-very-complicated COVID,” she said. “They’re choosing not to vaccinate their children.”

That’s why the messaging around the virus and the vaccine needs to change, she said.

“Right now, parents may be wondering, ‘If there’s no risk for my child, why should I risk adverse events from a vaccine for my child?’” MacDonald said. “Not understanding that there’s this overall need for our whole of society to get the vaccine to reduce the risks for those who are most vulnerable.”

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.