RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- The Food and Drug Administration could green light the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for ages 12-15 by the end of this week.
The earlier timeline, first reported by the New York Times on Monday, means 422,741 Virginians in that age group may be able to start getting shots sometime next week, according to the state’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula.
Before that can happen, the FDA will have to approve an amendment to Pfizer-BioNTech’s existing emergency use authorization (EUA). After that, a CDC advisory panel will still need to independently review the clinical trial data and make its own recommendation.
Avula said the data looks promising so far.
“The effectiveness and safety in the adolescent trials has been really remarkable,” he told 8News in an interview on Monday.
At the end of March, Pfizer reported that its clinical trial for ages 12-15 “demonstrated 100% efficacy and robust antibody responses, exceeding those reported in trial of vaccinated 16-25 year old participants in an earlier analysis, and was well tolerated.”
Avula said adolescents can get vaccinated in the same places as older Virginians, including mass vaccination sites, pharmacies and community clinics. He said parents can make an appointment online or call the state’s help line to schedule a shot ahead of time, though several walk-up clinics are now opening across the state.
Additionally, in preparation for emergency authorization, Avula said the state is accelerating its recruitment of pediatricians. Until now, he said few were offering vaccines because only a small percentage of their patients were eligible. As of last week, he said about 160 pediatricians had started the on-boarding process.
Avula said the state is working to address storage barriers and shift expectations for how doses should be deployed.
“There is more flexibility around not having to use all of the doses you get in one week,” Avula said. “We are at a stage of the roll out where it is more important that we get every single person vaccinated than it is that we use every single dose.”
Pediatricians are expected to play a key role in the vaccine roll out, especially as demand slows among adults.
“I think families see us a trusted source of information,” said Dr. Elizabeth Wolf, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Virginia Commonwealth University. “I think pediatricians are going to play a particularly important role in rural areas and in other communities that are more vaccine hesitant.”
Wolf said, while severe COVID-19 cases are rare in this age group, there is a risk of hospitalization and death. She said parents should also understand the public health benefits of getting their child immunized.
“Many people have said that we’re not going to be able to reach herd immunity until children are vaccinated so this is a huge step in that direction,” Wolf said. “One also has to think about high risk family members like those who are immunocompromised or elderly family members. By vaccinating children, we’re helping to protect all of those vulnerable adults.”
Before students go home for the summer, Avula said the state is meeting with superintendents about hosting voluntary vaccine clinics at school, though he said participation may vary by district.
Regardless of whether vaccines are green-lighted for emergency use in those 12-15, Avula said it’s still too soon for public schools in Virginia to mandate the shots, even with religious exemptions.
“I have no doubt that will be a topic of conversation moving forward once the vaccines do get full licensure,” Avula said.