Pediatrician discusses Pfizer vaccine for teens: how it helps, what parents should know

Vaccinate PA

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in children ages 12-15. This means that pending CDC authorization, which is expected later this week, everyone ages 12 and older will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.

Dr. Pia Fenimore, vice-chair of pediatrics at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and a pediatrician with Lancaster Pediatric Associates, says there are three big reasons why vaccinating younger individuals is a good thing.

First, while children typically don’t experience severe COVID-19 symptoms, they can still become ill and spread the virus, and occasionally their symptoms are more serious, leading to hospitalization and, in some cases, death. The coronavirus vaccine can help protect them from severe illness.

Second, individuals under the age of 18 make up 24% of the U.S. population, notes Fenimore, so getting them vaccinated will help bring the country closer to herd immunity and the point at which COVID-19 will stop spreading.

And third, the pandemic has notably impacted teenagers’ mental health. “They have really suffered from this isolation, they have not been able to count on the things that they need in their life, and they’ve really not been able to meet some of those developmental challenges,” Fenimore said. Vaccinating teens against COVID-19 can help them safely return to more normal schooling and socializing.

So far, the FDA has only authorized the Pfizer vaccine for use in adolescents ages 12-15, but Fenimore explains that other companies, like Moderna, are currently testing their vaccines for children. Additionally, Pfizer and Moderna are looking into COVID-19 vaccine dosage and efficacy for youth under the age of 12.

The Pfizer vaccine underwent the same trials and approval process for use in children as it did for use in adults, says Fenimore. “Those [processes] really safeguard us and let us know that this vaccine is safe for kids and it works,” she said.

Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE have reported that the vaccine was 100% effective at preventing coronavirus infection in 12- to 15-year-olds in the study. A statement from the companies also notes that the vaccine initiated “robust antibody responses” in trial participants, which is a sign that the shot was doing its job.

Children may experience common side effects like sore arms, fevers and muscle aches — the same symptoms many adults experience — in the 24-48 hours after they receive the vaccine, says Fenimore, but she reiterates that the vaccine is safe for youth.

If the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approves the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children in the U.S., adolescents will be able to receive the shot at locations offering the Pfizer vaccine, says Fenimore. This will include the Vaccinate Lancaster site at Park City Center in Lancaster.

Individuals under the age of 18 need parental consent to receive the vaccine. Fenimore encourages any parents hesitant about the vaccine to speak with their children’s healthcare providers and discuss any questions or concerns they might have.

Fenimore says she would tell hesitant parents:

“I understand that it is their job as a parent to really ask the tough questions of their healthcare providers, and I appreciate that. And then I would tell them that the trials have shown that this vaccine is very safe; that these types of vaccines, called mRNA vaccines, are known for having a very high safety profile; that they don’t affect fertility; that they don’t cause severe side effects; and that [parents] should feel confident getting their child this vaccine.”

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