Some parents in Massachusetts are reacting with caution after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 12, though others say it would give them peace of mind.
Shots could begin as soon as Thursday, after a federal vaccine advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. An announcement is expected Wednesday.
Most COVID-19 vaccines worldwide have been authorized for adults. Pfizer’s vaccine is being used in multiple countries for teens as young as 16, and Canada recently became the first to expand use to 12 and up. Parents, school administrators and public health officials elsewhere have eagerly awaited approval for the shot to be made available to more kids.
The Food and Drug Administration declared that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15. The agency noted there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 16 among kids given dummy shots. More intriguing, researchers found the kids developed higher levels of virus-fighting antibodies than earlier studies measured in young adults.
“I just feel as though they would be a lot more safe and there would be less risks,” said Amanda Powers, of Worcester, of her kids getting vaccinated.
Still, some parents expressed caution about the development.
"Is this going to have long-term implications for my kids and potentially my grandkids?" said Keri Rodrigues, the founder of MA Parents United, which has been urging the governor to ease mask restrictions for kids. "Honestly, that's the conversation."
Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious diseases physician at Boston Medical Center, said work needs to be done to reassure concerned parents about vaccines.
"In general, with most of the vaccines that have been approved or authorized, if people were to have any symptoms, those symptoms or side effects are seen within those two months," she said. "So far, we haven’t seen anything that’s concerning. That would be my first step in trying to reassure parents."
The city of Worcester is hoping partnerships with community organizations -- with which families already have a relationship -- might be enough to make them feel comfortable getting their kids inoculated.
“The families that we serve trust us, they know us, they know my team members and so there’s buy-in. They know that we wouldn’t lead them astray,” said Liz Hamilton, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester.
The Boys and Girls Club of Worcester will be holding a walk-in equity clinic from 5 - 8 p.m. Wednesday, just hours after the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents.
“We’ve already told families, we’re going to reach out to them via email, phone call, also to post on our social media sites,” Hamilton said.
The younger teens received the same vaccine dosage as adults and had the same side effects, mostly sore arms and flu-like fever, chills or aches that signal a revved-up immune system, especially after the second dose.
Pfizer’s testing in adolescents “met our rigorous standards,” FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said. “Having a vaccine authorized for a younger population is a critical step in continuing to lessen the immense public health burden caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
At his COVID vaccine briefing Monday -- just before the FDA's announcement -- Gov. Charlie Baker addressed how he thinks the vaccine rollout may go for children 12-15.
Speaking after a tour of the Manet Community Health Center vaccination site in Quincy, Baker said that he expects to see pop-up vaccination sites in schools and supermarket parking lots.
"You really want to catch people where they might be," Baker said.
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