RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Two of President Joe Biden’s top health officials joined Governor Ralph Northam on Thursday to see how COVID-19 vaccinations are going for 5 to 11 year-olds. 

Gov. Northam, alongside U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, visited a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

There, they saw Johnny Richter get his first shot on his fifth birthday. He was excited to get the vaccine “to save the world” and to go to Chuck E. Cheese again. 

Virginia Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula’s daughter Abby, who is ten years old, also got vaccinated on Thursday. She’s looking forward to spending more time with friends at sleepovers. 

“We hope we can get another 28 billion or so of your colleagues who are 5,6,7,9,10 years of age to join you because that will mean we are another step closer to protecting all of America,” Sec. Becerra said. 

Roughly two weeks into the roll out in Virginia, Avula said about 108,000 5 to 11 year-olds had been vaccinated as of Thursday morning, a lower rate compared to the same time period for 12-15 year-olds.

“We expected a slower uptake with 5 to 11 year olds,” Avula said. 

That’s because national data suggests only about a third of parents are ready to get their child vaccinated in this age group right away. Another third say they want to wait and see. 

Becerra and Northam urged hesitant parents to talk to pediatricians like Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough. 

“The alternative to not vaccinating is not zero risk. The alternative to not vaccinating is the risk of COVID-19,” Kimbrough said. 

 Kimbrough said a lot of parents have raised concerns about long-term side effects of the vaccine. 

“We also know kids are suffering long-term impacts from COVID-19,” Kimbrough said. “We’re seeing reports of kids who have mild disease but have ongoing shortness of breath, cough and even neuro symptoms like headaches, difficulty concentrating or brain fog for weeks or months after their infection.”  

Gov. Northam, who is also a pediatrician, said child vaccinations will make holiday gatherings safer for the most vulnerable and may ultimately mean the end of Virginia’s school mask mandate. 

“If we can get the great majority of five and above vaccinated, that option is certainly on the table but, in the meantime, we also know that masks protect people,” Northam said. “Until the CDC lift those requirements, we will continue to have that mask mandate in our schools.”

Asked if he knows of any immediate plans to change that federal guidance, Becerra said, “We’re going to continue at HHS giving you information based on the science that lets you make the right decision and lets leaders like Governor Northam make the right decision.”