RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The kids are now leading the way in North Carolina’s vaccine rollout.

Roughly 40 percent of the first doses given in the state so far this week have gone to children between the ages of 12 and 15, according to a CBS17.com analysis of state Department of Health and Human Services data Wednesday.

While kids from that age group have been vaccine-eligible for just seven days, their strong turnout has made a significant impact on a rollout that otherwise had been slowing for a month.

“Kids are getting out there to get vaccinated, which is a good thing,” said Dr. Ross McKinney Jr., the chief scientific officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges who spent more than three decades on the staff at Duke University and its medical school.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say more than 600,000 children between 12 and 15 got their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine — the only one authorized for kids that young — since they were approved to receive it beginning last Thursday.

“It was a very, very good start, from my perspective, to get over half a million people in the first week,” McKinney said.

Source: NCDHHS data dashboard.

In North Carolina, DHHS does not break its numbers down by that specific subset — so far, all kids younger than 18 are lumped together in one group — but it’s reasonable to assume kids between 12 and 15 are almost entirely responsible for the youngest group making up the largest share of first doses both this week and last.

DHHS says 37 percent of those doses last week went to kids younger than 18. That group accounts for 40 percent of the roughly 12,400 first shots given from Sunday through late Tuesday night.

Duke pediatrician Dr. Ibukun Kalu hopes those numbers stay high for quite a while longer.

“We always see high influx in the first week, particularly as the categories widen, or as we allow another group to receive the vaccine,” Kalu said. “So it’s exciting. I think we’re all cautiously optimistic, though, because we want to see this influx continue. I’m a bit worried that these numbers may trend down over the next few weeks.”

The bump resembles the one observed when other demographic groups — those older than 65, for example — became eligible. But McKinney says there’s one difference: There’s no shortage of shots now.

“It’s available, it’s easier to get and that’s part of the reason we got to 600,000 in the first week,” McKinney said.

The kids getting those shots now tend to be the ones who wanted them all along. But in the coming weeks, public health leaders likely will have to figure out a strategy for persuading hesitant or ambivalent teens or pre-teens.

“You do have to get both (child and parent) … because teenagers are pretty independent and autonomous,” McKinney said. “If they don’t want to go, it’s gonna be really hard to make it, even if you as a parent say it, ‘You’ve got to go.’ So we have to persuade both the parents and the adolescent.

“But I think adolescents are pretty responsive to peer pressure,” McKinney added. “And when they see that, ‘I can do things with my friends more easily if I’m vaccinated’ … I think we’re going to continue to see the adolescents driving their own vaccination.”

Kids who can get the vaccine now only make up 7.8 percent of the state’s population of about 10.5 million. 

So it’s not likely they’ll have a sizable affect on the push for herd immunity, which will likely require at least 75 percent of the total population to be fully vaccinated.

In North Carolina — where only 37 percent of all people meet that goal — we’re not even halfway there.

“I may be showing my bias,” Kalu said, “but I believe every shot matters. Every vaccinated person can do just a little bit more in protecting both the immediate community and our state at large and hopefully our nation. 

“The kids are a smaller proportion of our state’s population. We need adults that make up the bulk of our population to get the vaccines,” she added. “But kids are very active kids cut across for the most part all age groups in terms of who they interact with, who may provide care. … So it’s important to still get kids vaccinated and protect that bubble because we know they could help us to protect in some of the other age groups.”

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.