Cameron Strout, 10, left, Maxwell Strout, 7, center, and Samuel Hinrichs, 7, right, hold up their vaccination cards outside of the Brewer Walgreens where they got the COVID-19 vaccine on Nov. 7, 2021 <a href:"https://bangordailynews.com" link here. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine is vaccinating young children against COVID-19 faster than almost any other state amid high case levels and fears about the omicron variant, which was first detected in the U.S. on Wednesday.

A month after the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children between ages 5 and 11, 29 percent of Maine kids in that group have received at least one dose, according to data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That is nearly double the national rate of 15.1 percent.

It provides some reason for optimism that vaccines will help curb the spread of COVID-19 in Maine, as transmission among children has been a significant driver of cases this fall. But even for kids who have already gotten the vaccine, it will be a few more weeks until protection kicks in, and Maine continues to see significant disparities between counties.

Only two states — Vermont and Massachusetts — have a higher vaccination rate among newly eligible children than Maine. New England states occupy the top four spots in terms of vaccination rates, and five out of the top 10.

Despite Maine’s high overall vaccination rate, some counties remain much lower, however. While nearly half of kids in Cumberland County have already had at least one dose, according to state data, just 8 percent in Piscataquis County have.

Although COVID-19 poses less of a risk for children than it does for older people, young kids can still contract and spread it, and occasionally become very ill. In the first three weeks of November, Maine saw more than 1,300 COVID-19 cases among children between ages 5 and 9, already a record for any single month and nearly 12 percent of overall cases in the state during that time period.

Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah said Wednesday that six children were then hospitalized with the virus, including two in intensive care units. Maine has set several hospitalization records in the past few weeks.

Unvaccinated children have been disportionately affected by the delta variant surge here, which has accounted for nearly all cases over the past few months. Health officials are now concerned about the omicron variant as well, saying it could be more transmissible than delta.

Shah said Wednesday it is “only a matter of time” before the new strain arrives in Maine, but cautioned more data were needed.