Raleigh, N.C. — Pfizer wants to expand eligibility for its coronavirus vaccine to youths ages 12 to 15, a move welcomed by area parents and pediatricians.
The company has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to extend its emergency authorization for the vaccine to that younger age group, and a decision could come as early as this week. Pfizer has reported that the vaccine was found to be effective against the virus in 12- to 15-year-olds during trials, and tests are ongoing on children 11 and younger.
“Kids are vectors for illness,” said Dr. Hope Seidel, a pediatrician at Cary Pediatric Center. “The more kids we get vaccinated, the better.”
Youths 17 or under account for 12 percent of coronavirus infections in North Carolina since the pandemic began, according to state Department of Health and Human Services statistics. The group also accounted for 3 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 last week.
“As pediatricians, we give vaccines all the time. It’s literally a matter of just making the process easy,” Seidel said.
Although the Pfizer vaccine has already been approved for anyone 16 or older, Seidel said few pediatricians are vaccinating their patients because the size of the shipments would overwhelm their capacity.
“The amount of vaccine we would need to be able to get rid of in a two-week period is not possible for us, given our patient population,” she said, noting they would have to administer 1,200 doses during that period to avoid wasting any of the fragile vaccine. “When we have it approved down to [age] 12, I think it will be much easier for us to execute that.”
Some pediatric practices are already discussing grouping together to more efficiently handle the Pfizer vaccine shipments, she said.
“I don’t think there’s any physician in the country who doesn’t think the more shots we get in arms, the better,” she said.
Parents also are eager to get their children vaccinated against the virus.
“We are very much looking forward to it,” said Pani Cassar, the mother of a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. “It will be wonderful for them to get the vaccine for us to feel safer. It makes it so much harder to open up when we’re vaccinated but our children are not.”
Brian Pace, who has a 2-year-old son, agrees.
“My wife and I are already vaccinated. We’re on board with that,” Pace said. “It’s kind of a wonder that they’ve been able to develop a vaccine so fast, and if it’s safe for them, by all means.”
Officials said an FDA decision on making children 11 and younger eligible for the vaccine could come by the end of summer.
Seidel said that would align well with schools opening for the new year.
“I expect more schools to start to require that, as we’ve seen with colleges in the past month or so starting to require their kids to get back to school to be vaccinated,” she said.