People younger than 16 became the lone group not knowing when it will be vaccinated against COVID-19 now that everyone in Washington 16 years and older will be vaccine eligible by mid-month.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Wednesday that nearly the entire state, except for those 15 and younger, would be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine on April 15. The expansion gives 1.2 million more Washingtonians the chance to be vaccinated and makes 6.2 million people 16 and older eligible.
Vaccinating youths and getting everyone eligible vaccinated is vital because doing so could be the end of the pandemic, said Dr. Janet Englund, a professor in the division of pediatric and infectious diseases at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s hospital.
“I think it could be the end of the pandemic. That’s what most of us are hoping for and want,” Englund said. “There has to be uptake though. We’ve got to have a vaccine, and then people have to also take it.”
What does this mean for teenagers and children who don’t yet make the vaccine cut? We look into this question and more for this week’s FAQ Friday.
When will those 15 and younger be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
Exactly when those younger than 16 will be able to get vaccinated against COVID-19 isn’t known. There have been some promising developments recently, making real the possibility of having children as young as 12 being eligible by the time school starts in the fall.
“I think many of us in pediatrics are hoping that there will be a vaccine for at least older children by the time school starts,” Englund said.
On Wednesday, Pfizer said the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with the German company BioNTech is safe and provides strong protection against the disease in children as young as 12.
Of the 2,260 children and teens between the ages of 12 and 15 to be fully vaccinated in the Pfizer study, there were no cases of COVID-19.
Another important piece of evidence in the unpublished study is how well the shots boosted the children’s immune systems. Researchers reported high levels of virus-fighting antibodies, somewhat higher than were seen in studies of young adults.
The children and teens had side effects similar to young adults, the company said. The main side effects are pain, fever, chills and fatigue, particularly after the second dose. The study will continue to track participants for two years for information about long-term protection and safety.
Pfizer is going to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks to grant emergency use of the shots starting at age 12.
“We share the urgency to expand the use of our vaccine,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. He expressed “the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year” in the United States.
The main focus of studies examining children and teens is safety, Englund said, because information about effectiveness gleaned from adult studies carries over.
Which vaccine should teenagers be getting?
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one given emergency-use authorization by the FDA for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Parents and teens can find locations with Pfizer at the state Department of Health’s COVID-19 Vaccine Safety and Effectiveness and the COVID-19 Vaccine Frequently Asked Questions pages. The PrepMod site, where people can make vaccine appointments, also identifies Pfizer sites.
DOH is figuring out how to amplify and promote COVID-19 awareness of 16- and 17-year-olds, said DOH spokesperson Shelby Anderson.
The company that makes one of the other two vaccines approved in the United States is studying its vaccine on children between the ages of 12 and 17. Moderna, which is a two-shot vaccine like Pfizer’s, expects to have study results by midyear.
Johnson & Johnson, maker of the one-shot vaccine with FDA approval, is also planning a study of teens and children.