Marian Natividad, 11, gets her first COVID-19 vaccine at Katherine R. Smith Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., on Nov. 4, 2021. (Harika Maddala/ Bay City News)

Sen. Alex Padilla and health care officials from across California called this week for more children to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect them from hospitalization or death from the virus.

Only one-third of children ages 5-11 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to data from the California Department of Public Health.

While children ages 12-17 have a higher vaccination rate at roughly 72 percent, that still trails adults in the 18-49, 50-64 and over-65 age groups. More than 85 percent of California adults in all three age groups have received at least one dose.

As of Wednesday, children make up 18.3 percent of all confirmed COVID cases in the state, according to CDPH data.

Dr. Grace Lee, the associate chief medical officer for practice and innovation at Stanford Children’s Health, said that more children are currently hospitalized with COVID at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital than at any other point in the pandemic.

“The vast majority of these children are not up to date on their vaccines or are not yet eligible for their vaccines,” Lee said Thursday during a roundtable discussion with Padilla and other health experts.

Dr. Kelley Meade, a pediatrician and associate dean of academic and clinical affairs at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, said her hospital has also seen its highest number of children admitted for COVID in recent days, with pediatric COVID patients making up roughly 10 percent of the hospital’s beds.

Meade added that the hospital’s COVID patients were split between those admitted for complications of the virus and those who were infected but admitted for a different reason.

“Those admitted for COVID tended to be younger — not yet eligible for the vaccine, under 5, or not yet fully vaccinated,” she said.

The health experts and Padilla all argued that the easiest way to ensure children do not end up hospitalized with COVID is vaccination.

The only current COVID-19 vaccine approved for all children ages 5 and up is the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Research from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the vaccine is roughly 91 percent effective at preventing COVID in children 5-11 and 92 percent effective for kids age 12-17.

“Vaccines are free, they are safe, they are effective and the best way to protect your health, that of your family, that of our community,” Padilla said.