By Dr. Jerry P. Abraham
As a physician of color, when the COVID-19 vaccines were developed, I immediately understood the importance of taking down every barrier to ensure they were made available to black and brown communities.
As a vaccines advocate, I am excited The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) extended the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to ages 12 to 15 and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine safety review panel and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup recommended that the vaccine is safe and effective in protecting this age group against severe illness, hospitalization and death. The Pfizer vaccine has already been safely administered to millions of California adults, including more than 30 percent of 16–17-year-olds.
It’s now time for parents to start scheduling appointments through My Turn to get their teens vaccinated. I understand that some parents may still have questions and want to learn more. Here are the facts on the COVID-19 vaccine for those ages 12 to 15.
Q: Is the vaccine safe for our youth ages 12 to 15?
A: After clinical trials showed the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and highly effective in protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death in those ages 12 to 15, the FDA granted emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for this next eligible age group. The Western States Scientific Safety Review workgroup convened immediately upon CDC review of the FDA’s authorization, issuing its recommendation just days later.
Q: What side effects have been seen in adolescents?
A: Side effects for young people are similar to those experienced by adults which could include a sore arm, fever, fatigue, chills, headache, and nausea. Some experience more symptoms than others while others have none. As with any other vaccine, medical experts remind us that mild symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity and it is important to remember that the vaccines have proven to be safe and effective for all of us.
Q: Were the vaccines thoroughly tested in the 12-15 age group? Where can I see the research or studies about the Pfizer vaccine and youth?
A: Pfizer’s phase three clinical trial enrolled 2,260 adolescents 12 to 15 years of age in the United States. Researchers recorded 18 cases of symptomatic coronavirus infection in the placebo group, and none among the children who received the vaccine, indicating that it was highly effective at preventing symptomatic illness. More information on the clinical trials can be found here.
Q: Why should I vaccinate my child if cases are low and children aren’t severely impacted by COVID-19?
A: As more adults and teens ages 16 and up become vaccinated, our focus shifts to our younger population, as they remain susceptible.
The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that as of May 2021 youth now account for 22 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., when this time last year youth cases were only around three percent. Since older people are now vaccinated, it is important to get young people vaccinated to prevent new cases from increasing, starting with our 12 to 15-year-olds.
The more vaccinations that get into the arms of those eligible, the more we stop the spread of COVID-19 and shrink the pool of people vulnerable to this deadly virus. By getting our 12 to 15-year-olds vaccinated, families can be safer as we venture out more, go on vacations, return to in-person classrooms, play sports, have sleepovers -- and get back to doing the things we love.
Q: Are there any teens who should NOT get vaccinated due to increased risk?
A: If you have specific questions about a medical condition, please talk to your healthcare provider, local community clinic or a public health office.
Q: Will my child be required to get vaccinated before returning to in-person schooling?
A: While vaccination isn’t currently required to return to in-person learning, the state’s public health objective is to get as many of our 2.1 million 12- to 15-year-olds vaccinated over the coming weeks and months prior to the new school year. By getting our young people vaccinated soon, we can have peace of mind in knowing those over age 12 are protected against COVID-19, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Q: Where can I go to learn more about the vaccine?
A: More information on the COVID-19 vaccine is available at VaccinateALL58.com.
Q: When and where can I sign up to get my teen vaccinated?
A: Parents and guardians can check vaccine availability and book an appointment through MyTurn.ca.gov or call California’s COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255. You can also call your family doctor, local community health clinic or public health office for more information.