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Health & Science

CDC Recommends Pfizer Vaccine For Adolescents

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in people ages 12 to 15. The agency's recommendation came hours after a committee of advisers voted to express their confidence in the vaccine among this age group and days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized it for this population. All of that clears the way for providers to immunize these adolescents right away. NPR health reporter Pien Huang has been watching the proceedings and joins us now. Hey, Pien.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what does this decision mean exactly?

HUANG: Well, the members of the CDC committee agreed with the FDA that the Pfizer vaccine should be given to children as young as 12. The data from the clinical trials show that it protected them from getting COVID-19 and that the side effects were generally minor and easily managed. Dr. Henry Bernstein, a pediatrician at Hofstra and a committee member, says the benefits clearly outweigh the risks and go beyond protecting the individual kid.

HENRY BERNSTEIN: It'll contribute to community immunity, and it allowed the kids to more safely go back to camps this summer and back to in-person school.

HUANG: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky accepted the recommendations, which serves as kind of an official kickoff to vaccinating adolescents 12 to 15 against COVID. She called it an important step to getting out of the COVID-19 pandemic and closer to normalcy.

CHANG: Did the committee identify any concerns for this age group when it comes to this vaccine?

HUANG: Well, there were no red flags from the data, although surveys show that many parents still have concerns like whether the vaccine is safe for their kids. The most common side effects in this age group included, you know, their arms hurting after getting the shot. A lot of them were tired or headachy in the day or two after. Here's doctor Yvonne Maldonado. She's a Stanford pediatrician and nonvoting ACIP member.

YVONNE MALDONADO: These vaccines are eliciting an immune response that can cause some local reactions like pain and sometimes low-grade fevers. But those are short lived. And in the end, they provide an immune response to protection against disease.

HUANG: I should mention that ACIP is the CDC advisory committee on vaccines. And if kids develop these symptoms, the CDC says it's totally fine for them to take an age-appropriate dose of Tylenol or ibuprofen to alleviate the effects. Another thing that was announced at today's meeting is that the CDC is working on new guidance that will likely say that COVID vaccines can be given at the same time as other vaccines.

CHANG: Oh, tell us more about that. Remind us what the policy has been.

HUANG: Well, when COVID vaccines were first authorized back in December, the CDC recommended giving it out on its own with a two-week gap between getting that and any other vaccines. They explained today that this was out of an abundance of caution. You know, now that 150 million people have been vaccinated, mostly without severe side effects, the CDC is now saying it's likely that COVID vaccines can be safely given with other vaccines. This would apply to all the COVID vaccines available and to adults as well as teens.

But it's especially important for adolescents because it means that they can get caught up on other vaccines they missed during the pandemic at the same time they come in to get the COVID shot. You know, in the past year, there's been a 15 to 20% drop in this age group for getting vaccines for HPV, meningitis and tetanus.

CHANG: OK, so where will teens and preteens be able to get the COVID vaccine?

HUANG: Well, it's the same Pfizer vaccine that adults have been getting. You know, it's the same two doses spaced three weeks apart. So they will be able to get them in a lot of the same places adults currently can, though where exactly and what kind of permissions or proof of age need to have will vary state by state. The Biden administration is making a big push to get pharmacies and pediatricians ready to give the Pfizer vaccine out. And later this summer, administration officials told my colleague Tamara Keith that there's going to be a big back-to-school push to reach young people before they go back to the classroom.

CHANG: That is NPR health reporter Pien Huang. Thank you, Pien.

HUANG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.