With a new demographic now eligible for Covid-19 vaccines, public health officials hoping to fight variants will have to adjust their strategy to convince 12 to 15-year-olds and their parents to sign up for inoculations.
“Here we have to speak not only to the patient, the adolescent, but also their parents and guardians to make the case simultaneously to both,” Dr. Nirav Shah, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said Tuesday. “It’s just an added nuance, it’s not any more difficult, it’s just something we’ve got to think through and get right.”
Health experts expressed excitement at the US Food and Drug Administration’s decision Monday to expand the emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to adolescents as young as 12.
To get adolescents and their parents onboard, primary care providers, pediatricians and family medicine physicians who are speaking with parents and the kids will be critical. Shah said.
The expansion comes as public health officials are urging Americans to be inoculated before variants resistant to vaccinations spread and cause another surge later in the year.
Already, more than 72% of coronavirus genetic sequences in the US are the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom — one that is known to be more transmissible than its predecessor, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in an interview released Tuesday.
She also made an appeal to mothers to get families vaccinated.
“Mother to mother, I am asking you to do everything you can to vaccinate those people who are eligible in your household — yourself, as well as your children,” Walensky said in an event hosted by Scary Mommy. “Moms are great at getting things done. That’s what we do.”
‘I can go out more instead of just staying home and doing nothing’
Although the FDA has approved the EUA, the CDC still has to officially recommend the vaccine for those as young as 12 before vaccinations are supposed to begin.
The CDC’s adviser, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting to discuss and vote on it Wednesday. That advice then goes to Walensky, who is very likely to give the go-ahead within hours.
However, some locations began vaccinating the young teens on Tuesday.
The shots are somewhat premature, as doctors are technically not supposed to start administering the vaccine to this age group until the CDC recommends they do so.
However, doctors already have the vaccine on hand, and the CDC’s approval is a foregone conclusion. This is an area of medical practice regulated by states, but because the vaccine is already authorized and in offices, there is little to stop medical professionals from exercising their own judgment.
Jacob Laney, 14, was in line at a Decatur, Georgia, vaccine site early Tuesday in hopes of getting the vaccine early.
“My friend got Covid and it looked really bad, and I just did not want to get it,” he told CNN. Once he gets both doses of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine, “I think I’ll be less scared of getting it and less scared of having issues with Covid-19,” he said.
Cameron Carrion, a 14-year-old whose mother watched CNN’s interview with Jacob and then drove to the same vaccine site, said he felt good about getting the shot.
“I feel like it’s better that I got it because I can go out more instead of just staying home and doing nothing,” he said.
And for states that have not jumped ahead on immunizations, adolescents still may not have long to wait.
California will offer the coronavirus vaccine to children as young as 12 years old starting Thursday, expanding access to about 2.1 million additional residents, health officials said Tuesday.
Appointments to receive the vaccine will be available through California’s MyTurn website starting Thursday morning. The state is working to enroll more providers and clinics to administer the vaccine to younger people, California Department of Public Health Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said.
Current vaccines are still protective, CDC says
As officials consider the possibility of booster shots, Walensky emphasized that plans are a precaution and that current vaccines are still protective.
“The first thing I want people to realize, and I think hasn’t been clear, is we are talking boosters — but right now if you have two doses of the vaccine and the mRNA vaccines, you’re protected. You don’t need to wait for a booster. You’re protected,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNBC on Friday. “What we are talking about is thinking ahead.”
Vaccine makers are already testing the effects of booster shots, and the federal government is starting to plan for possible programs to deliver booster doses of coronavirus vaccine — but these are just-in-case scenarios, Walensky said.
“What happens if, in a year from now or 18 months from now, your immunity wanes? That’s really our job, is to hope for the best and plan for what might happen if we need further boosters in the future, the way we get flu vaccine boosters every year,” she said.