For Troy Mangan, getting the COVID-19 vaccine for his children will mean “we can relax a bit, not feel so on edge.”
Mangan’s wife, Heather, has leukemia and is immunocompromised, so their children — Joshua, 14, and Chaleh, 12 — have been attending classes at Bennion Junior High from their West Jordan home this year, he said Wednesday.
The Mangan children, along with some 215,000 other kids in Utah from 12 to 15, will get the chance to get those vaccinations soon.
Dr. Rochelle Waleksky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday approved recommendations made earlier in the day by a CDC advisory panel to allow children 12 to 15 to get the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
The Utah Department of Health is recommending all vaccine providers start offering vaccines to the 12-15 group as soon as possible, after getting familiar with the CDC’s recommendations.
“The sooner providers start vaccinating these kids, the better,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement Wednesday. “Many Utah parents have been waiting for this news so they can make sure their families are more fully protected. This will mean safer gatherings with family and friends and an epic summer.”
Parents should check the websites of their local health departments to make appointments, said Dr. Tamara Sheffield, medical director for community health and prevention for Intermountain Healthcare. (The Utah Department of Health keeps a list of links to those departments on its website, coronavirus.utah.gov/vaccine-distribution.) Sheffield also recommended people go to Intermountain’s website, intermountain.com/covidvaccine, to make an online appointment to one of that hospital system’s clinics.
Though many clinics now are allowing people to come in without an appointment, “it really is best to call ahead,” Sheffield said, to ensure the clinic is carrying the Pfizer version of the vaccine.
Before Wednesday, the Pfizer vaccine had been approved only for people 16 and older. Federal agencies have approved the other brands of COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, only for adults.
According to the Utah Department of Health, 23,419 Utah children between the ages of 12 and 15 have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the pandemic began. It’s estimated that 201 of them needed to be hospitalized, and 14 of the hospitalized kids later developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children — MIS-C, a serious and potentially deadly condition.
“Despite popular thinking, many kids get COVID-19,” said Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director of UDOH.
Sheffield said Pfizer’s data for its clinical trials showed its vaccine was 100% effective at preventing COVID-19; none of the kids who received the vaccine got the virus, while 18 kids who took the placebo did.
About 10% of the 2,300 kids tested reported side effects after the first dose, Sheffield said, and 18% said they felt side effects after the second dose. The effects are similar to what adults have experienced: Soreness where they got the shot, as well as fatigue, muscle aches, fever and chills. Most subsided with a few days, she said.
The CDC also changed an important recommendation in how the COVID-19 vaccine is administered: Now, it can be given at the same time as other vaccines. Before, doctors recommended a buffer period of two weeks before or after the COVID-19 vaccines were given, when no other vaccinations be given.
“That was something that has been really difficult for pediatricians, and they’re all going to be rejoicing about this change,” Sheffield said.
Rich Lakin, UDOH’s immunization program manager, said that the state has seen an increase in kids who are overdue for regular immunizations in the last 15 months. Wednesday’s change in CDC guidelines, Lakin said, gives doctors “an important opportunity to not only vaccinate adolescents against COVID-19, but to also catch these kids up on other routine vaccinations.”
Mangan, the West Jordan dad, said, “we’ll get online and see how soon we can signed up to get in line. I’m sure there’s going to be a line. Who knows how long it’s going to be?”
Tim Phillips, a freelance video producer who lives in Salt Lake City, said he’s eager to get his 12-year-old daughter, Lizzie, vaccinated. “I don’t think appointments are being made yet, but the second they are, we will get her one,” Phillips said Wednesday.
“We’re a family that believes in science,” Phillips said. “They say kids have an easier time, that there’s less risk of complications — but this is still not something we want to subject her to when there is a readily available medicine that can, hopefully, keep her from the worst of it.”
Mangan, who sells real estate and manages rental properties along with his wife, said the family had a scare in February — when he, Heather and their son, Joshua, tested positive for COVID-19. Chaleh, their daughter, tested negative, he said, “but still we figured she had it, since we are all living together. … We were shut down. We didn’t go anywhere. But [Chaleh] didn’t show any signs of it.”
Phillips said Lizzie, his 12-year-old, has been attending Salt Lake City’s Open Classroom from home this year. She did that, her father said, in part to protect her mother, Leslie, who has Crohn’s disease and must take drugs that suppress her immune system.
The rest of Lizzie’s family — Tim, Leslie, and big sister Bridget, 20 — have been vaccinated. “We’re a Pfizer family,” Tim Phillips said, and now Lizzie will get the same brand.
“We’re looking forward to not wiping down groceries,” Phillips said. “We will continue to be somewhat cautious. But Lizzie is just thrilled at the thought of being able to see her friends in person. … To be able to send Lizzie back to school in the fall, to have a normal school experience, to have a normal relationship with her friends — that’s the first thing.”
When the children are vaccinated, Mangan said, they can “get back to playing with their friends. Living life a little more normal, without having to stress out too much about it. And, hopefully, help society get back to the place where we don’t have to wear masks all the time.”