A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 17, 2021

US Parents Rushing To Get Adolescent Children Covid Vaccinations

There was some expectation that parents might be hesitant to have their children vaccinated against the Covid virus. 

But early data following the authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds suggests that the demand is greater than expected. Parents want kids ready for summer activities and school next fall. And the teens just want to be able to hang with their friends again hassle-free. JL 

Robbie Whelan reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Parents across the U.S. are rushing to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 after regulators authorized the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15. Some parents and school officials want children to be vaccinated ahead of summer camps and the start of the next school year. And many teens are eager to resume social activities with friends. There are 16.7 million children between the ages of 12 and 15. With 45.1% of adults fully vaccinated, demand for Covid-19 immunizations plateaued. 30% of parents will be early adopters, 30% won’t want their children vaccinated, and a third will wait.

Parents across the U.S. are rushing to get their adolescent children vaccinated against Covid-19 after regulators authorized the use of the Pfizer Inc. PFE +0.20% and BioNTech BNTX +0.49% SE vaccine for children ages 12 to 15.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Wednesday the use of the vaccine in the younger age group. More than a dozen states—including California, Washington, Maine, Illinois, Massachusetts, Arkansas and Florida—followed the CDC’s recommendation and made the 12 to 15 age group eligible, many scheduling vaccination appointments starting Thursday.

Public-health experts say vaccinating children is crucial to protecting them from infection and achieving communitywide immunity. Some parents and school officials want children to be vaccinated ahead of summer camps and the start of the next school year. And many teens are eager to resume social activities with friends.

Jen Ferris, who works in communications for a nonprofit in Chapel Hill, N.C., has been texting with other moms for weeks in anticipation of the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for adolescents.

“When the news came through, my mom network just lit up—my phone wouldn’t stop buzzing,” she said. “All the messages were, ‘FDA-Approved,’ then a bunch of heart emojis.”

She scheduled her 13-year-old son for a vaccine appointment at his pediatrician’s office for Thursday and then sent the doctor’s number to a half-dozen friends so they could make appointments for their children.

Elliott Ferris, who likes videogames and fishing, shouted, “That’s so dope!” upon hearing the news, his mother said.

“I’ve had such a long year-and-a-half without friends,” Elliott said. “We’re just so bored and a little bit lonely.”

The FDA’s authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine for adolescents is expected to provide an immediate boost in demand for vaccinations. There are 16.7 million children between the ages of 12 and 15, according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. With 45.1% of adults fully vaccinated, demand for Covid-19 immunizations seems to have plateaued, creating excess supply of doses in some states.

“It’s harder to reach people now,” said Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health. “You can’t set up a mass vaccination site and give shots to 5,000 people in a single day anymore.”

Dr. Jha said he expects about a third of eligible children ages 12 to 15 to be vaccinated in the coming weeks. He said the pace of shots will probably slow over the summer, as parents wait to see whether or not summer camps and schools will require vaccinations for attendance. If so, and if the virus continues to circulate among unvaccinated teenagers, those could be powerful motivators for parents to sign up their children, he said.

States appear to be taking different approaches to vaccinating adolescents. In California, hospitals are joining with county health departments and community clinics to hold mass-vaccine events focused on children but are also offering shots to caretakers who bring children in.

“There’s no one way that’s the best way” to vaccinate, said Dr. Nicholas Holmes, chief operating officer of Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. “Leveraging pediatricians allows parents to ask questions and have their fears allayed, and that personal relationship is sometimes instrumental.”

In North Carolina, state officials have signed up 400 pediatricians to do outreach to parents and administer vaccines to children at their offices. Hospitals will break up Pfizer’s 1,200-dose packets of vaccines into smaller batches to distribute at pediatric practices, said Mandy Cohen, the state’s health secretary. In addition, dozens of public school districts in the state have expressed interest in holding on-site vaccination events for students or joining with local agencies to transport students to vaccination sites.

“It’ll be almost like a field trip,” said Dr. Cohen. “We want to make this process convenient and easy, so parents can just sign a permission slip and a consent form, and they don’t have to take off work to get their children vaccinated.”

In Chapel Hill, Pascale Georges, one of Ms. Ferris’s friends from the neighborhood, is eager to have her 11-year-old son, Harrison, vaccinated as soon as he turns 12 next week. Ms. Georges wants her son to be protected from infection and to visit his grandfather in Haiti.

Most of all, she wants Harrison to go back to school. For much of the past year, she has awakened at 4 a.m. to write home-schooling lesson plans for him and get a head start on her day’s work as a project manager at a digital-branding agency.

“I need life to be somewhat normal for us in the fall or the summer,” Ms. Georges said.

Mindy Wagner, who works at the same company as Ms. Georges, spent most of a whole day this week checking the websites of area clinics and pharmacies looking for an opening for her 12-year-old son, Wyatt, to be vaccinated. Late Wednesday night, she found a Facebook post from the University of North Carolina advertising a vaccination clinic open to children and immediately made him an appointment for Tuesday.

“While [Covid-19] might not affect Wyatt that badly, we do have friends who are immunocompromised, and there are plenty of people who can’t get the vaccine,” Ms. Wagner said.

Daniel Benjamin, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Duke University, has two sons, ages 14 and 15, who participated in the Pfizer trials, one receiving the vaccine, the other a placebo.

Dr. Benjamin predicts, based on polling data and conversations with other parents, that about 30% of parents in the 12-to-15 age group will be early adopters, 30% won’t want their children to be vaccinated, and a third group will wait and need convincing.

He plans to try to convince other parents of the benefits and safety of the vaccines on the baseball diamond, where he serves as coach of his sons’ youth teams.

“I’ve had these types of conversations already with a lot of baseball coaches, and I’m getting ready to have it with a bunch of baseball parents,” Dr. Benjamin said.


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