“I’m foaming at the mouth to get them vaccinated so they can have some semblance of a normal summer,” Fisher said. “I cry when I think about all they have missed already.”
After a year of stifling confinement and missed schooling, children ages 12 to 15 have been cleared to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine under emergency use. The decision that the two-shot regimen is safe and effective for younger adolescents had been highly anticipated by many parents and pediatricians, particularly with the growing gap between what vaccinated and unvaccinated people may do safely.
Expert advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to meet Wednesday to recommend how the vaccine should be used among 12- to 15-year-olds. If the panel of experts, known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, recommends the vaccine for use and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signs off on the recommendation — both actions are widely expected — the inoculation can be given anywhere authorized to administer the shots. Walensky on Tuesday urged parents to vaccinate their children and urged children to ask for the vaccine if their parents were hesitant.
Some states were not waiting for the CDC action: Teens 12 and older were eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday in Arkansas, Delaware and Georgia, officials said.
The desire to get adolescents vaccinated and concerns about the shots for them mirror those among adults, said Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Some parents are extremely eager for their children to get vaccinated, others are motivated by convenience, and a third group has lots of questions and some are “not in favor of vaccinating,” Shah said.
Some places are seeing enormous demand: at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, 5,900 children have signed up for preregistration. Other parents are much more hesitant to get their children vaccinated.
A survey published last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found only 3 in 10 parents with children ages 12 to 15 said they would get their child vaccinated as soon as possible. A quarter said they would wait to see how the vaccine is working and 18 percent said they would do it only if required by schools. Almost a quarter said they will definitely not be getting their child vaccinated.
“I am absolutely not injecting this poison into my children,” said Concetta Comparato, a mother of three in Sayreville, N.J. Comparato said she is not opposed to vaccines; she said her children have received all of their childhood immunizations. But she worries not enough time has passed to know how the vaccine could affect adolescents long-term. Two of her children have high-functioning autism. One has developmental delays.
“I don’t feel like I know how this could affect them and their conditions,” she said. She said the ubiquitous advocacy for the vaccines has only made her more suspicious. “If it’s so trustworthy, why does the government and other people feel like they need to push it so heavily?”
Health officials are realizing they need to talk about the vaccine not only to parents and guardians, but to children themselves. Anne Zink, the chief medical officer for Alaska and incoming president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said children might have different concerns than adults. School officials, she said, will play a pivotal role in talking about the vaccine.
Gena Krug of Berlin, N.J., signed her 13-year-old daughter Catie up for the first available vaccine appointment. Catie said she’s looking forward to simply not having to worry.
“Just having it not be the first thing on your mind,” Catie said of the virus. “Scared you’re going to get it, that you might give it to others and what you may be missing out on because of that.”
Catie last week came down with a fever. Her parents rushed her to get tested at an urgent care, and retraced their steps, telling every family member and friend they came into contact with that they might be at risk — only to have the test results come back negative.
“To not have to have that constant stress anymore, that will be such a relief,” said Krug, 44.
But health officials will be contending with many challenges when it comes to vaccinating adolescents.
Experts say they are worried especially about access to the vaccines in minority and rural communities, which could cause those populations to lag behind in vaccinations — as they have for adults. Umair Shah, the health secretary in Washington state, said that older children tend to get hit harder than young children by covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The severity of that infection is more common among Black and Latino children compared to their White counterparts, he said, and among those with underlying health conditions.
The vaccine’s cold storage requirements and large lot size — 1,170 doses is the minimum order — makes it harder for doses to be distributed to doctors’ offices. Some health officials are breaking up trays for pediatric offices and putting them into special containers packed with dry ice.
“If you’re a small pediatric practice or a rural one, the Pfizer vaccine is not going to be highly possible. There’s cold storage issues. There’s questions about what you do with leftover shots,” said Nathaniel Beers, a pediatrician at Children’s National Hospital.
Experts are also still trying working through whether other annual vaccines can be given at the same time as the coronavirus vaccine. Beers said he wants to be sure pediatricians don’t solely focus on the coronavirus vaccine at the expense of vaccines that prevent other diseases. But, officials said, pediatricians are used to overcoming logistical issues and hurdles to administer childhood immunizations.
“If there’s one thing pediatricians and nurses in our field know how to do it’s shots,” said Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious-disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.
The consent process for children receiving the coronavirus vaccine will be similar to that governing adults, officials said. But in some places, such as Maine, state officials do not require the parent to be on-site. They can sign a consent form to allow their adolescent be vaccinated at a school-based clinic, Nirav Shah said. In Maine, a 13-year-old can “get their parent on the line and give verbal consent,” he said.
Shah and other state health officials said they been planning for months to vaccinate this new age group and are trying to use the school calendar to help parents plan. In some states, officials have been planning clinics in schools before the academic year ends; in others the vaccine will be more readily available initially at mass vaccination sites and drugstores dispensing the Pfizer shot.
In recent weeks, Anupriya Chaudhuri was wavering on getting her two boys — ages 13 and 15 — the vaccine, especially after a flood of news coverage on rare blood clotting issues possibly related to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But in recent days, her family has been particularly unnerved by the surge of cases and deaths in India.
“The growing worries in India and here about variants, it’s accelerated my desire to get my kids vaccinated,” Chaudhuri said. “And it’s reassuring to me that it’s taken so long to get these approved for younger age groups. They don’t seem to be jumping the gun and are really taking due diligence.”
Felecia Perez, a mother of two in Massachusetts, said she believes in vaccinating her children, but feels like it’s too soon to know for certain the coronavirus inoculation is safe for her daughters.
“I’m not saying this was rushed, but it definitely will not be going into my children for a long time,” said Perez, who works as a home health aide, “We do not know the long-term effect of this in children. It’s a no from me.”
Zink said preteens and teenagers have suffered during the pandemic.
“They have been in and out of school, in and out of sports, their lives have really been disrupted,” she said.
Zink’s 16-year-old daughter has been vaccinated and her mother recounted the girl’s joy at hanging out and hugging her friends.
“She says being vaccinated is simply the best,” Zink said.
Ariana Eunjung Cha and Carolyn Y. Johnson contributed to this report.