Utah children could start getting the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the week, a leading Utah pediatrician said Monday. The announcement came after the news that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer version of the vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15 on an emergency use basis.
“Go out and get your kids vaccinated — that’s my personal advice,” Dr. Andrew Pavia, director of epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and chief of pediatric infectious disease at the University of Utah, told reporters Monday.
The FDA expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Monday to cover children as young as 12.
Doctors, Pavia said, now must wait for a panel of experts at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to weigh in. The panel, called the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), is scheduled to meet Wednesday to decide what to tell doctors about dosage and what side effects to watch out for, Pavia said.
The ACIP panel, Pavia said, “really gives us our marching orders to start vaccinating.” Once that’s done, Pavia said, parents should be able to make appointments for their children immediately.
An Intermountain spokesman said clinics at five of its hospitals — Logan Regional, McKay-Dee in Ogden, Riverton, Utah Valley in Provo, and St. George — will be expanding vaccinations on Saturday. Other providers are expected to announce their plans in the coming days.
About 215,000 children in Utah fall into that 12-to-15 age range, said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health. “Expanding vaccine access to them will push us even closer to the finish line in our battle against COVID-19,” Hofmann said in a statement issued Monday.
Hofmann cited data presented by Pfizer to the FDA, which said its vaccine is “highly effective” at preventing COVID-19 in the 12-15 age group. “In fact, none of the clinical trial participants who received the vaccine ever became infected with COVID-19,” Hofmann said.
The Pfizer version had already been approved for people 16 and older. The other two vaccine versions approved in the United States, made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are available for people 18 and older.
Clinical trials are underway to learn the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as six months old. Results from those trials are not expected for months.
Immunizing teens and pre-teens against the virus, Pavia said, should help prevent spikes in cases among those groups — and with older adults with whom they come into contact.
“Teenagers interact with their friends all the time. That’s what they do,” Pavia said. “But they also interact with other people in the community. And these close interactions allow them to be effective spreaders.”
Pavia said the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines have been proven by the fact that 200 million Americans have received the shots since December, with only a small percentage of them catching the virus or suffering severe side effects.
“We now have a really rich amount of data on safety and efficacy,” Pavia said. “We’re no longer looking at a brand-new product, or one that was rushed out.”
Pavia advised parents to consider how to schedule their children’s vaccinations — both the COVID-19 shots and the standard array of immunizations — between now and the start of school in the fall. The Pfizer vaccine requires a three-week gap between the first and second doses, and patients can’t get other vaccinations during that time. “It requires a little bit of forethought,” Pavia said.