The US Food and Drug Administration has expanded the emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to include adolescents 12 to 15 years of age.1 This follows the agency’s EUA issued in December 2020 for administration in individuals 16 years of age and older.
Since the start of the pandemic, approximately 1.5 million COVID-19 cases have been reported in children 11 to 17 years of age, noted the FDA in a press release. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is administered as a series of 2 doses, given 3 weeks apart. This is the same dosage and dosing regimen already approved for teens 16 years of age and older.
To understand the significance of this announcement, we reached out to Mary Koslap-Petraco, DNP, PPCNP-BC, CPNP, FAANP, clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook School of Nursing in Stony Brook, New York.
How significant is this announcement?
Dr Koslap-Petraco: This is absolutely significant! I think it will be the biggest positive change for adolescents to occur since the beginning of the lockdown in March 2020. Now we have a vaccine for adolescents that has the potential to give them back life as they knew it.
We know that adolescents can be silent carriers. Spreading the virus this way endangers the entire community. Adolescents may have mild illness that is not recognized as COVID-19 infection or they may not get sick at all but still spread the virus.
Most children and adolescents who get COVID-19 recover without any problems, but some do become seriously ill. Hundreds of children and adolescents have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) or a serious complication of COVID-19. Several of those children have long-term heart issues after they recover from COVID-19. Some have also died. Unimmunized adolescents may also unknowingly infect a friend or family member who then gets very sick or loses their life to COVID.
How will this impact school-age children’s return to classrooms?
Dr Koslap-Petraco: Vaccinating adolescents will have a huge impact on returning to classrooms and keep them there safely. This will decrease the ability of the virus to circulate in the school community making it much safer to be in school for students as well as teachers and school staff.
Vaccination will keep children in school where they belong and not home sick or in quarantine. Many parents, especially mothers have not been able to return to work because they must stay home to care for children who are going to school remotely, which can negatively affect the family’s finances. This situation is even worse in single-parent families. If the children are in school then their moms can return to the workforce.
Does this expanded EUA get the US closer to herd immunity?
Dr Koslap-Petraco: Herd immunity is a relative term. The goal is to get everyone who is medically able vaccinated as quickly as possible. Getting our adolescents vaccinated will go a long way to stopping the newer COVID-19 variants from spreading. If fewer children and adults get COVID-19 then there are fewer chances for the virus to develop variants.
I am volunteering to give shots with my county health department at their county clinics. Every time I give a shot I think we are 1 more shot closer to getting every eligible person vaccinated, so our communities can get back to life as we knew it.
What else would you like to tell our readers about this latest development?
Dr Koslap-Petraco: I firmly believe in this vaccine. Yes, there can be some uncomfortable after effects but those last for a few hours or a few days and they beat getting COVID. This vaccine, like every other vaccine, is not perfect and it is still possible to get a mild case of COVID once vaccinated. The purpose of the vaccine is to prevent hospitalizations and deaths and this vaccine certainly has been shown to do that. If I had adolescent children I would run and not walk to get them vaccinated as soon as possible.
For more information, the FDA has updated Fact Sheets for Healthcare Providers Administering the Vaccine (Vaccination Providers) and for Recipients and Caregivers with information to reflect the use of the vaccine in the adolescent population, including the benefits and risks of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine.
US Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: FDA authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for emergency use in adolescents in another important action in fight against pandemic. May 10, 2021. Accessed May 11, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-pfizer-biontech-covid-19-vaccine-emergency-use?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery