A D.C. resident receives COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Federal authorities approved the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15, a boon for D.C. families who want to have their children immunized ahead of school in the fall. Summer camp and sleepovers are in sight. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 is safe and effective among adolescents. In a clinical trial of 2,260 participants between the ages of 12 and 15, Pfizer and BioNTech recorded 18 cases of symptomatic infection among children who received a saline placebo and zero cases among those who received the vaccine. The side effects among the children were comparable to that of other age groups, and include pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, and fever. Side effects typically lasted one to three days. 

“Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock in a statement released on Monday. 

An advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still needs to recommend that the vaccine can be used in 12- to 15-year-olds. The committee meets on Wednesday to review Pfizer’s data. Experts of the committee are expected to endorse the vaccine for the age group. Meaning vaccinations for children 12 and up can begin as early as this week. 

Meanwhile, D.C. has been preparing. DC Health plans to welcome children to the walk-up vaccine sites, where no appointments are needed. Already some of these sites are welcoming 16- and 17-year-olds. The expectation is that shortly after the CDC offers its approval, sites will be able to administer the Pfizer vaccine to 12- to 15-year-olds. It will not be immediate because providers need to be trained.   

DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt says federally qualified health centers will also be able to vaccinate children. They are being selected because some providers already have established relationships with 12- to 15-year-olds and their families, so parents may feel more comfortable having them get inoculated there.  

Children’s National, the leading vaccine provider for 16 and 17 year olds in the region, is letting parents and legal guardians who live in D.C. or Prince George’s County pre-register children 12 or older. The hospital will reach out to those on the waitlist once their children become eligible for the vaccine. Children’s National has pre-registered nearly 5,900 children between 12 and 15 years old in roughly one week, according to a spokesperson. The hospital will close the waitlist at 6,000. 

Local pharmacies already administering Pfizer should also be an option for families.  “We’re fully prepared to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to children ages 12 – 15 at thousands of CVS Pharmacy locations nationwide as soon as permitted,” says a spokesperson for the company via email.

Having children vaccinated could mean more families feel comfortable returning to school. Even after DC Public Schools welcomed students to campus in February, most are still learning from home. Demand for in-person learning is lower among poorer neighborhoods. These neighborhoods were also disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Mayor Muriel Bowser expects all public and charter school students to return to campuses in the fall unless families can demonstrate a need to stay at home. Bowser’s team is still thinking through the new policy they dubbed “virtual by need.” 

Hesitancy that hindered adult vaccinations could hinder child vaccinations, national polling suggests. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 30 percent of parents who have at least one child between 12 and 15 say they’ll get their kid vaccinated right away. The rest want to see how the vaccine works (26 percent), or get their kid the shot only once school requires them to (18 percent). And 23 percent say they will definitely not get their child vaccinated. 

Notably, inoculation among 16 to 19 year olds in D.C. has been slower than other age groups. As of May 6, 6 percent of them are fully vaccinated, according to Ryan Stahlin, the data scientist responsible for DCcovid.com, which pulls granular data from DC Health. 

The virus also has not impacted minors as greatly as it has other age groups. As of May 11, 6,112 of the 48,282 D.C. residents to test positive have been younger than 18. No one younger than 19 years old has died of COVID-19, according to DC Health.  

— Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com) 

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