California’s population of 12-15-year-olds could become eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine later this week, state officials said Tuesday.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended its emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine Monday, making a cohort of children under 16 eligible for a coronavirus vaccine for the first time since vaccinations began nationwide in December.
State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly and state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said during a news briefing that the vaccine could become available to California’s youngest teenagers as soon as Thursday once the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup issues its own approval of the vaccine.
The workgroup will meet Wednesday, Ghaly said, and is expected to approve of the Pfizer vaccine’s use among 12- to 15-year-olds. The Pfizer vaccine continues to be the only coronavirus vaccine available to minors.
“We know that young people have shouldered a significant burden throughout COVID in many ways,” Ghaly said. “The fact that we can now provide a certain degree of confidence and protection to those young people to start to resume activities, visit more with families and friends, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for that group to sort of experience that sense of normalcy that they have been missing.”
The state opened vaccinations to 16- and 17-year-olds on April 15. Since then, more than 30 percent of people in that age group have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Ghaly.
Some 2.1 million state residents will become eligible once appointments open to those ages 12-15.
Ghaly and Pan, both of whom are pediatricians and parents, noted that as millions of the highest-risk demographics like those with chronic medical conditions and people over 65 have been vaccinated across the state, more and more cases have been confirmed among young people.
“The more vaccines we can get into the arms of eligible Californians, the more we can stop the spread,” Pan said.
With the exception of minors who have been emancipated from their families, everyone under 18 in California requires a the permission of a parent or guardian to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
That consent does not have to be given in person, Pan said, with some minors providing written consent from their parents or using tools like video calls to allow their parent or guardian to consent remotely.
Pan and Ghaly also said state officials are working with so-called “micro influencers” such as faith leaders, community organizations and school leaders to encourage teens to get vaccinated.
For now, the state is not requiring coronavirus vaccination for eligible children to return to in-person classes.
That could change before the fall semester, according to Ghaly, who said the state is waiting for the FDA to give its full approval of the vaccines — not just emergency use approval — before considering making them a requirement like vaccines for measles and whooping cough.
“Every person in California who can be protected from COVID, we hope that they will (get vaccinated), not just for themselves but for the community at-large so we can get back to some of those normal activities that I know we’ve all been missing, in particular younger Californians.”