DALLAS — The Food and Drug Administration expanded its emergency use authorization on Monday to allow Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to be given to anyone between the ages of 12 and 15 years old.
The vaccine had previously been approved for use in anyone 16 and older.
The FDA’s authorization is not the final say in approving vaccinations for adolescents.
A Centers for Disease Control panel is expected to meet Wednesday.
If the CDC panel recommends usage of the vaccine, 12 to 15-year-olds can begin getting a shot soon after.
What should parents do now?
“I have a 15-year-old and I know I’ve had the conversation with him,” said Dr. Angela Moemeka, a pediatrician with Mark 9 Pediatrics in Coppell.
“I said, ‘When this comes out - just so you know - I know that I told you there’d be no more vaccines for you for a while. Well, there will be a vaccine.’”
Moemeka said she has suggested to parents that they prep their children much like they did before getting other childhood immunizations.
Dr. Beth Kassanoff-Piper, president of Dallas County Medical Society, said conversations with kids are critically important, especially to make sure they haven’t heard any misinformation about the vaccines.
“See how they’re feeling about it and see what they’re hearing from friends or teachers,” she said. “And talk to your pediatrician.”
Who should parents turn to?
Your family doctor or pediatrician is the best source of information if you’re concerned about a potential allergic reaction or complications from an existing condition in your child.
Kassanoff-Piper said research shows the Pfizer vaccine to be highly effective and safe for adolescents.
“They studied about 2,200 teens between the ages of 12 and 15 and of all the kids that received the vaccine, there were no cases of COVID – zero,” she said.
Moemeka said she “absolutely” believes children should get the vaccine.
But she understands if a parent is hesitant because their child has certain severe allergies or other conditions.
If a child was her patient, she would ask: “Is there an allergic reaction to any of the components of the vaccine? Has there been any condition that may put the child at risk of having a reaction?”
In general, the risk of adverse reactions is low, Moemeka said, but a doctor who knows a child’s risk factors should be consulted to help guide parents through the process.
How do parents make an appointment for their kids’ shots?
The vaccines will likely be available to adolescents at large hub sites sooner than they are available at your local pediatrician’s office.
Moemeka registered to be a COVID-19 vaccine provider with the state as soon as Texas health officials suggested pediatricians do so.
She’s hoping she’s the one giving shots in the arms of her young patients because she knows she’s developed trust with them and their families.
But she said it might require local practices banning together and having all patients go to a single office to make the process more efficient.
Children’s Health in Dallas said it is currently working on a vaccination plan for patients.
Methodist Hospital already began administering the Pfizer vaccine to students 16 and up during routine sports physicals.
In Dallas County, parents and guardians can register their 12- to 15-year-olds on the county’s registration site.
Once the recommendation comes from the CDC, the county said it will reach out and invite those parents or guardians to schedule appointments on days Pfizer is being offered at the Fair Park vaccine site.
Once Texas updates its guidance for vaccinating adolescents, Denton County Public Health said it would update its waitlist sign-up to allow anyone over the age of 12 to register. The county is reminding parents and guardians that they must accompany minors to their DCPH vaccine appointment.
Tarrant County is encouraging parents to sign up their children for the vaccination with the county or anywhere else.
Tarrant County said parents will be notified of a vaccine appointment after the CDC issues its recommendation to do so.
Side effects of the vaccine similar to what adults experience are to be expected, Moemeka said, so explain to your children what they may feel before they get the shot.
What if I have kids who are younger than 12?
The Pfizer vaccine will only be expanded to those 12 and up because clinical trials on children under the age of 12 are still underway.
Doctors advise against waiting to vaccinate older siblings until younger siblings are eligible.
“The more of the family that’s vaccinated, the less risk there is to everybody in the family,” said Kassanoff-Piper.
She also said parents should not believe the myth that young people don’t get COVID or suffer its consequences.
“With the variants out there, there is more infection among children and teens than there was initially.”
She said vaccines will help teenagers return to the social activities they’ve missed out on for more than a year.
There are an estimated 1.6 million 12 to 15-year-olds in Texas.
Health experts say vaccinating them will be critical to protecting the entire population and stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
“Do everything you can to give your kid the best opportunity to avoid getting severely ill,” Kassanoff-Piper said, “and think about the rest of your family as well.”
Will my kids still have to wear masks?
Just as the CDC has started to relax mask guidance for vaccinated adults, Moemeka said she expects the same to happen for adolescents and teens as the rate of vaccines in those age groups increases.
“We know the age group in pediatrics that was shown to be mostly affected by COVID was adolescents, so this is the time. Let’s get them vaccinated, especially as summertime begins and school lets out,” she said.
Editor's note: The headline for this story has been updated to reflect that the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized by the FDA for use in children 12-15 years old and not approved, as previously written.