President Joe Biden said his administration is “ready to move immediately” if and when the US Food and Drug Administration authorizes the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for use in youths ages 12-15.
States are getting ready, too.
Biden said he has directed states to make sure these teens can get vaccinated right away, but some states, medical associations, and pediatricians say they don’t need the encouragement. Many are ready, willing and able to help meet what one expert described as a “pent-up demand” for these vaccines for teens.
On Tuesday, Biden announced that as soon as the FDA authorization comes, thousands of federal pharmacy sites across the country are ready to vaccinate this age group.
Biden said teens who move between states in the summer will be allowed to get the first dose in one state, and the second in another. The administration will also ship vaccine directly to pediatricians during the following weeks. “So parents and their children can talk to their family doctor about it and get the shot from a provider they trust the most,” Biden said. “Easy, fast and free.”
There is no timeline for when the FDA would authorize the vaccine for this age group, although a federal official told CNN it could come by early next week. Pfizer submitted data to the agency in late March.
“The new administration has it set up so that things can pivot quickly in existing pathways to get the vaccine into communities that are used each time a new group becomes eligible and we are targeting a different population group,” said Lori Freeman, CEO of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).
The goal with distribution, she said, would be to continue to strengthen these existing vaccination avenues using the federal pharmacy program and the Federal Emergency Management Agency clinics. These efforts would be coupled with the state, local, territorial and tribal vaccine programs. Then vaccines would be distributed to providers like pediatricians and family doctors, Freeman said.
On calls with the White House Tuesday, she said the American Academy of Pediatrics and several other medical groups discussed how they were working to get more of their members enrolled to administer Covid-19 vaccine. About half of the providers enrolled in Vaccines for Children — a federally funded program through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that provides vaccines free of charge to children — are enrolled to administer the vaccine.
“But that also means they need to encourage the rest of the Vaccines for Children providers to get registered to administer the vaccine,” Freeman said.
The Biden administration is also encouraging pharmacists to vaccinate teens, Freeman said. “They’re really looking for places where it is easy for young adults to get access. This is going to be critical,” she said.
She said she hasn’t heard of any need for special training to give a teen a vaccine.
Meeting a ‘pent up demand’
More than half of parents say they’re likely to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 as soon as it is available to their age group, according to an April Axios-Ipsos poll.
Many families recognize the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks. While severe illness is still considered rare among children, hospitalizations and death can happen. It’s also possible that children could suffer from long-term side effects from Covid-19.
As of April 29, more than 3.78 million children have tested positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data collected by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For some parents, the vaccines can’t come soon enough.
“I hear all the time from parents who are interested in getting their kids into studies, or they call and ask when these vaccines are going to be available down to age 12, so there is a lot of pent up demand,” said Dr. Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases.
O’Leary, works at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said his hospital is already vaccinating 16 and 17-year-olds. Once younger teens are eligible, O’Leary said they will be ready for them.
“By now we have this sort of well-oiled machine already running and there are a lot of parents who really want this vaccine, and are willing to drive to us, even an hour or more across town, to get it as soon as possible,” O’Leary said.
Many pediatricians have already been making plans to administer the Covid-19 vaccine from their offices, if they don’t already.
O’Leary said at the AAP town hall last week, an informal poll among members showed 20% of the pediatricians surveyed were already administering the Pfizer vaccine to teens who were eligible. Close to an additional 60% said they had already signed up to do so.
States lay groundwork to reach teens
For children who don’t have a medical home in a pediatrician’s office, programs are already working to fill the gaps. School-based health centers located inside Denver Public Schools have already run weekend clinics to vaccinate eligible teens. There are several efforts like this underway throughout the country, O’Leary said.
On Tuesday, states including Texas said that they have been proactively reaching out to pediatric health care providers.
“We know that many parents will want to get their children vaccinated where their child normally receives their care,” said Lara Anton, a press officer with the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Outreach is also underway in Michigan, a state that has seen a surge of cases over the last couple of months. Lynn Sutfin, the public information officer with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said Tuesday that the state already has more than 3,300 vaccine providers enrolled to administer the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We are already working with pediatricians, school based health centers, family practice providers and others to assure access to vaccines for this population and MDHHS is looking forward to the opportunity to protect young Michiganders with the Covid-19 vaccine as well,” Sutfin said
Freeman thinks that the vaccine rollout for teens will be similar to what the country saw with adults — people who are willing to have their children to be vaccinated will be ready to go right away. Then the pace may slow once the eager have been through the system. “We are going to hit that group quickly, but then we’ll probably run into a brick wall again like we are with the adults,” Freeman said. “We will have to address that pretty quickly.”
Plus, people may have more qualms about immunizing children and teens with a new vaccine.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to educate parents and to make them feel comfortable with this vaccine for their kids,” Freeman said. She added it is also an access issue. There are studies that show that, particularly for this age group, at a certain point parents stop taking their kids routinely to their pediatricians.
“So we have to make sure everyone has access to this vaccine.”