The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for kids as young as 12.
That means that 40,000 more Alaskans will likely be able get vaccinated as soon as Wednesday, pending final approval from the CDC, health officials say.
Since March, anyone 16 and older who lives and works in the state has had access to at least one of the three free COVID-19 vaccines currently available, and over half of those have received at least one dose.
“We are ecstatic that it has an emergency use authorization, and that we can have more Alaskans protected from COVID-19,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said Monday. “While children tend to do very well with COVID — they tend to be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, we still see kids get sick, we still see kids hospitalized, and we know that they can spread it to adults,” she said.
The state currently has all the supplies needed to vaccinate this group, though officials don’t yet know what the uptake will be.
Here are officials’ answers to commonly asked questions about children and the COVID-19 vaccine.
What studies have been done on vaccinating kids 12 and older? Is it safe?
Over 2,260 kids were included in Pfizer’s clinical trials, said Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, staff physician with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. During that trial, zero cases of COVID-19 occurred in the vaccinated group of 1,131 children, while 18 of the 1,129 children in the placebo group did test positive for the virus.
“The (vaccinated kids) had a robust immune response even over the 16- to 25-year-old group that they had studied previously,” Rabinowitz said.
The FDA’s decision to grant authorization was based on an assessment that the vaccine is both safe and effective for kids.
The FDA requires follow-up for all drugs and vaccines after they are approved, and will continue to study the vaccines for years to monitor for longer-term immunity and safety in children.
Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website to learn more about vaccines and children.
Will kids and teens receive the same vaccine dose as adults?
Yes. Like adults, children will need two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, administered three weeks apart.
Most kids don’t get seriously sick from COVID-19. Why should they get vaccinated?
Although older adults are far more likely than children to get seriously ill from COVID-19, “children can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, can get sick from COVID-19, and can spread the virus that causes COVID-19 to others,” the CDC points out on its website.
During a recent call with reporters, Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist with the state health department, said he was excited to vaccinate his 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son “the first day that it becomes available in that age group.”
“This is the way to get our kids back to life as normal,” he said. “This is the way to get them going back to school regularly, this is the way to get them back to doing sports and art and music and extracurricular activities,” he said.
What vaccine side effects are likely for this age group?
Similar to adults, the most common side effects reported among 12- to 15-year-olds receiving the vaccine were mild and went away on their own after a few days, health officials say.
The most common symptoms were fatigue, pain in the arm around the vaccination point, headaches, muscle aches and chills. Reactions after the second shot tend to be slightly more intense, and are a sign the body is building an immune response, the CDC says.
While most mild side effects are considered normal, CDC guidance says a doctor should be contacted if redness or tenderness around the shot area increases after 24 hours, or if the side effects seem worrying or do not seem to be going away after a few days.
Where can parents take their kids to get vaccinated?
Parents can now start scheduling vaccine appointments for Wednesday and beyond for their children by visiting covidvax.alaska.gov or calling 907-646-3322.
Parents should make sure the clinic they’re selecting has Pfizer vaccine available, as it is the only vaccine that has been authorized for use in children.
Many pediatricians and doctors offices will be able to provide the vaccine to children as well, and parents can contact their child’s doctor to see if that’s an option.