Virginia parents wanting to vaccinate their kids in the 12-to-15 age group with Pfizer's coronavirus shots still need to wait before they can make an appointment or head to a vaccination clinic.
Even though the Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for children as young as 12 to receive Pfizer's vaccine, its authorization on Monday is not the final hurdle.
"While this is an exciting first step toward offering this vaccine and its protection to more than 400,000 Virginians, we must await additional federal approval before doing so," said Dr. Danny Avula, the state's vaccine coordinator, in a Monday night statement. "Virginia would not begin offering the vaccine to those 12 and older until the CDC approves doing so."
Avula refers to the final two steps remaining before health departments can officially begin administering vaccines to adolescents: a vote from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approving the FDA's decision, which is slated to happen Wednesday afternoon; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC's director, issuing a formal recommendation upon the committee's approval.
Clinical trials showed a 100% efficacy rate, meaning the vaccine is safe and protected children against the virus and hospitalization or death from it. Side effects remain consistent with what older adults have experienced, which is fatigue, arm soreness, headaches and chills.
Virginia has already begun planning for the widened vaccine availability and are working to ensure students receive a second dose before going home for the summer. Avula has said success is tied to executed on-site vaccinations at schools, since it's a reachable access point for families.
Adolescents, with the consent and accompaniment of a parent, will also be able to receive a dose at any location currently offering vaccinations such as federal retail pharmacies; health care providers; local health department clinics; and pediatricians.
Once the CDC gives the OK, vaccinations could theoretically start immediately but it's unclear when school districts will advise parents on their options. Plans will differ with each locality.
And just as they aren't for adults, vaccinations for kids are not mandated and will not be in Virginia.
While they’re less likely to get sick from the virus, children can still spread the disease and contribute to community transmission, Avula said in an interview last week. He added that Michigan and Minnesota have had surging case counts these in the past month in large part due to high school and college students.
“For individuals who are at higher risk, it’s a no brainer, right? Because that risk of COVID vaccination pales in comparison to the risk of negative effects for COVID,” Avula said. “That individual calculus gets a little bit more complicated for younger, healthier people.”
This is mostly due to having a smaller chance of being infected.
But hospitalizations among younger adults are increasing, and the majority of cases linked to highly-transmissible variants in Virginia are among people younger than 20 years old, according to the VDH.
There's also been a significant disparity in the demographics of children who have gotten infected or died from the virus. CDC data updated on Monday indicated that in the 5-to-17 age group, more than a third of cases - 596,020 - were among Latino children. This is 1.4 times their share of the population.
Latino kids in this age group were a third of the deaths. The difference is technically small between white and Latino children - 91 deaths versus 86 - but whites have double the population size.
Whether parents intend to vaccinate their children with a COVID-19 vaccine has been linked to whether the parents have received a dose or anticipate getting one soon. While a national survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found Hispanic parents were the most likely to vaccinate their child immediately, Black parents were the most likely to report that they would not.
With Richmond-area schools having significant Black and Latino populations, Avula said there's work ahead in changing perceptions through outreach and trusted messengers.