CDC recommends Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for adolescents

U.S. adolescents as young as 12 can start receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine immediately after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday officially recommended the move.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky adopted a recommendation from an independent advisory panel that endorsed the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and its use in 12- through 15-year-old adolescents.

“CDC now recommends that this vaccine be used among this population, and providers may begin vaccinating them right away,” Walensky said in a statement. 

However, some clinics in states including Pennsylvania, Maine and Georgia did not wait, and began vaccinating adolescents shortly after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the vaccine was safe and effective in that population.

The CDC recommendation comes two days after the FDA granted Pfizer and BioNTech’s request to allow their vaccine to be given to young teens on an emergency use basis. 

The vaccine is already authorized for use in people 16 and older. It will be administered in adolescents in two doses, three weeks apart, the same regimen for 16 years of age and older, the FDA said.

Due to the complicated cold storage requirements and large lot size of 1,170 minimum doses, health authorities initially expect adolescents to be vaccinated at pharmacies and other existing large-scale sites with the Pfizer-BionTech vaccine.

CVS on Wednesday said its clinics will begin vaccinations on Thursday. Consent from a parent or guardian will be required to get the vaccine in a CVS pharmacy, and an adult must be present with the child to get the vaccine, the company said.

Pediatricians and other primary care doctors’ offices are likely to start getting shipments later, once logistics can be worked out to minimize the potential for wasted doses.

Some states are also planning to offer clinics at schools, though the timing is tight with the end of the school year. 

The highly anticipated decision is a key step toward ensuring middle and high schools can operate for full in-person learning in the fall — and a major boon to parents concerned about the safety of summer activities.

“For vaccination to do its job, we must do our critical part. That means vaccinating as many people as possible who are eligible,” Walensky said. “This official CDC action opens vaccination to approximately 17 million adolescents in the United States and strengthens our nation’s efforts to protect even more people from the effects of COVID-19. Getting adolescents vaccinated means their faster return to social activities and can provide parents and caregivers peace of mind knowing their family is protected.”

While health officials and experts have argued that schools are safe and should have opened for in-person teaching months ago, the vaccines for younger kids adds another layer of protection and peace of mind.

But it also represents a new challenge. Adolescents need consent from a parent or guardian to get vaccinated, and some may not be willing to give it.  

“Much of our messaging has been direct to patient. Here, we have to speak not only to the patients, the adolescents, but also their parents and guardians to make the case simultaneously to both,” said Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shah added that state health departments have been preparing to vaccinate adolescents, so the need to talk to both parents and kids is “just an added nuance. It’s not any more difficult, it’s just something we’ve got to think through and get right.”

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed limited eagerness from parents to get their children vaccinated, and that parents’ views on inoculating their children lined up with whether they planned to get vaccinated themselves. 

Only 30 percent of parents with kids ages 12 to 15 said they’ll get their child vaccinated right away, 26 percent wanted to wait to see how it’s working, 18 percent said they will vaccinate only if their child’s school requires it and 23 percent said they will definitely not get their child vaccinated.

During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Walensky encouraged children to talk to their parents.

“Some parents want to be first, but I’m also encouraging children to ask for the vaccine,” Walensky said. “I have a 16-year-old myself, and I can tell you he wanted to get the vaccine. He wants his life back. These kids want to go back to school.”

Updated at 5:38 p.m.

Tags adolescent vaccinations CDC Coronavirus COVID-19 vaccines Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Rochelle Walensky
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