Vaccine and health care providers in Massachusetts are poised to begin administering Pfizer vaccines to the roughly 400,000 Bay State residents between the ages of 12 and 15 as soon as Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel voted Wednesday to endorse expanded usage of Pfizer's and BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-old kids, clearing the way for pediatricians to start giving out the shots across the U.S. as early as Thursday.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' recommendation, which was adopted 14-0 with one refusal, comes two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's and BioNTech's request to allow their shot to be given to young teens on an emergency use basis. The endorsement then received final approval from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
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After touring a Norwood facility for fellow vaccine manufacturing company Moderna -- which is also testing its COVID-19 vaccine in children below the age of 16 but has not yet received federal approval for use in younger populations -- Baker said Pfizer shots for teenagers could begin within a day.
About 400,000 people are in the newly authorized age group, Baker said. He said the state's vaccination system, including mass vaccination sites, regional collaboratives and pharmacies, would be able to provide enough doses to meet demand for the age group.
Saying the vaccine had already proven to be "enormously effective," Baker said his administration was focused of encouraging as many families to have their children vaccinated.
"What we're really focused on at this point is making sure that the information we get out to the pediatric community and the primary care community, as well as many of the folks who are part of our vaccination network... is to support people signing up," he said.
"What we really want to do is make sure we really get as many people who are eligible to get vaccinated, vaccinated," Baker added.
The administration has been reaching out to pediatricians to ensure they play a role in providing shots to those between the ages of 12 and 15, and Baker encouraged parents to reach out to their primary care physicians with any questions about COVID-19 vaccines for teenagers.
Also Wednesday, Baker said his administration is working on a program that would let employers in Massachusetts book or host vaccine clinics for their workers.
During his remarks after touring the Moderna facility, Baker repeatedly praised the firm's role in fighting the pandemic.
Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel joined the governor to tour lab facilities. They were joined by Moderna Therapeutics Head of Manufacturing Science & Technology Paul Chen and Senior Vice President of U.S. Manufacturing Scott Nickerson. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders, who has been leading the state's response to the pandemic.
Moderna recently said preliminary results from its study in 12- to 17-year-olds show strong protection and no serious side effects -- data the FDA will need to scrutinize.
On Tuesday, Baker praised the state’s COVID-19 vaccine push during a meeting with other governors and President Joe Biden, saying the state’s “mixed model” of vaccine distribution helped ensure a broad base of Massachusetts residents received shots.
“Our program was basically what I refer to as a mixed model,” Baker said. “Our mass vaccination sites did about a million shots but we also had regional collaboratives with local boards of health and local providers in areas where we had a lot of geography between and among people.”
The state also prioritized getting shots into the arms of the state’s more vulnerable populations, the Republican said.
“We’ve managed to successfully vaccinate so far our Hispanic community, our Asian community, our Black community in rates that are right up there with our white community,” Baker told Biden. “We still have some work to do there but we’ve made a lot of progress.”
Not everyone was ready to give Baker high marks.
Activists say that while Massachusetts has made rapid progress on overall rates of vaccination, persistent racial disparities in vaccination remain and illustrate a lack of equity in the rollout process.
“While Governor Baker is touting Massachusetts’ progress on vaccine distribution, racial disparities have persisted since the beginning of the vaccine program and remain a major concern,” said Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition Co-Chairs Dr. Atyia Martin of the Resilient 21 Coalition, Eva Millona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and Carlene Pavlos of the Massachusetts Public Health Association.
They said vaccination rates among communities of color remain below the rate of the white population, even though those communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 hospitalization.
While 55% of white residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, only 33% of Hispanic residents, 37% of Black residents, and 53% of Asian residents have received at least one dose, according to the latest weekly COVID-19 vaccination report.
“If reaching the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and ensuring equitable access to the vaccine was truly a top priority for the Baker administration, it would have invested in these community-based sites proven to reduce inequities from the outset of the program,” the three said in a press release Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Massachusetts surpassed 3 million people ages 16 and older who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Rolling out the immunization to younger teens is widely seen as the next key step in the state's fight against the pandemic and a major boost to efforts to bring students back to in-person learning.