PROVO, Utah – Intermountain Healthcare held a press conference on Wednesday regarding the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and up by the CDC advisory committee.
Dr. Tamara Sheffield, Intermountain Healthcare medical director for community health and prevention, spoke about the vaccine during the press conference, touching on its safety, its possible side effects, and its efficacy as seen through the vaccine trials.
“In order to protect our adolescents from this disease and its impacts on their health, and also to mitigate the effect that COVID has had on their social and educational development, we as providers have been anxious for them to have access to the COVID vaccine,” Sheffield said. “Over the past several months, Pfizer studied the effectiveness and safety of their vaccine in adolescents 12 to 15, have looked both at their immune response to the vaccine compared to those ages 16 to 25 who have been receiving the vaccine since December, and they have also been studying the safety of the vaccine as well.”
Sheffield noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an expansion of the vaccine emergency use authorization to include those ages 12-15, and on Wednesday the CDC advisory committee on immunization practices added its recommendation.
With the number of unvaccinated adults falling, the number of COVID-19 cases in adolescents has been rising, according to Sheffield, with 9% of all COVID-19 cases being found in those ages 12-17.
When talking about the efficacy of the vaccine, Sheffield noted that there was a 100% effectiveness in the trials with no adolescents testing positive for COVID-19 after receiving the vaccine. There were 18 positive cases in those who received the placebo.
She added that there was little difference between the 12-15 age range and the 16-25 age range, with both experiencing the expected side effects. These include soreness at the site of injection, fatigue, fever and muscle aches.
“We are expecting at Intermountain Healthcare to be able to be providing this vaccine this week,” Sheffield said.
Intermountain started accepting vaccine appointments for those age 12 and older on Wednesday, but those appointments are only available at hospitals that have the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
When asked about how expanding the vaccine availability will impact the move toward herd immunity, Sheffield pointed to how social and active adolescents tend to be. The vaccine is expected to give more protection to children and their loved ones.
“With 9% of those cases being in this age group, that is really a key pocket of disease that is still happening,” Sheffield said. “Even if individuals have milder disease, or are asymptomatic, there is still the potential that they can pass the disease onto others and so for us to achieve herd immunity we have to keep the transmission from happening. Also to prevent variants as well. You have to have your cells infected with the virus in order for that virus to then grow variant viruses. If we can keep them out of our bodies which is exactly what the vaccine does, it prevents the entry of the virus into our cells, then we can prevent those variants as well and prevent newer strains that may be more difficult for us to control. We want herd immunity quickly so that we don’t develop new types of viruses that will be harder to handle.”
The other big news that came along with the announcement that adolescents will be eligible was that finding that the COVID-19 vaccine can be administered along with other vaccines. This means other childhood vaccines will not have to be delayed 14 days following the final Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
For those looking to sign up a child age 12-15 for the COVID-19 vaccine, you can visit the Utah County Health Department website or go to intermountain.com/covidvaccine to find available appointments.
Sheffield said walk-ins are available in some locations, but parents or guardians should call ahead to ensure there are Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines available.