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States Ready Plans to Get Pfizer Vaccine to Teens

photo of vaccine

May 11, 2021 -- State health officials today shared plans to distribute Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to 12- to 15-year-olds after the FDA authorized its use in this age group late Monday.

Some states hope to start the vaccinations as early as Thursday, officials said at an Association of State and Territorial Health Officials news conference today.

There are, however, two more steps before shots can reach younger arms. On Wednesday, the CDC‘s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to recommend use of the vaccine in this age group. Then CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, must make a final decision to begin vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds.

Some Hoping to Start This Week

Both the CDC panel and Walensky are expected to sign off on the vaccine’s use. States have been making plans on how to tailor the vaccination message not just to the patient this time, but to parents and guardians as well, some of whom are hesitant to consent.

Some schools, assuming approval Wednesday, are ready to start vaccinating in cafeterias and gyms.

Anne Zink, MD, president-elect of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and Alaska chief medical officer, told reporters that many of her state’s boroughs and districts have booked in-person vaccines for their schools Thursday as the state has dismissal for summer as early as this week.

Maine is readying four types of distribution sites for the vaccines: primary care offices, Walgreen’s and CVS pharmacies, mass vaccination sites, and schools, said Nirav Shah, MD, current ASTHO president and director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Starting later this week, he said, the state hopes to host large vaccination clinics for people age 12 and over.

Eliminating Barriers

States are working to break down barriers through education and improving access.

In Alaska, many of the drive-through evening vaccination sites are being changed to Pfizer sites so parents just getting off work can take their kids.

It’s also important to get young people to speak to their peers about the importance of vaccines, she said. Some teen groups in Alaska are hosting Zoom calls where they share with children and families why they chose to get vaccinated.

In Maine, Nirav Shah said, “the notion of informed consent applies with equal force to adults as it does with adolescents.” But at least in Maine, it is not required that a parent be on site and present during the vaccination itself.

A parent could sign a form allowing the child to be vaccinated in a school-based clinic. Maine also allows verbal consent so a parent can give consent over the phone, Shah said.

Dividing Vaccine Trays

Vaccines going to pediatrician and family medicine offices presents a challenge in that smaller numbers of doses are needed for those venues than at large vaccination sites that get trays of 1,170 Pfizer doses each.

Shah says states have been talking with federal authorities on the need for smaller packaging.

“Breaking the trays up into smaller lot sizes takes a fair amount of effort.” Shah said. “We understand that later this month the lot size will be going down to 450.”

But even that will be too much for small offices, he said.

Similarly, an effort is being made in Maine to make sure doctors’ offices are not limited by their refrigeration capabilities. The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures that many primary care doctors’ offices may not have.

“If they need a cool cube with dry ice, we can furnish that to them,” Shah said.

Should they Be Mandated?

Zink said Alaska generally has high acceptance for recommendations around COVID-19 and has no plans to mandate the COVID-19 vaccines for children.

Umair A. Shah, MD, secretary of health at the Washington State Department of Health, said, “Our number one ability to get people vaccinated is for them to be encouraged to do so, to be incentivized to do so, to do everything we can to make the vaccine choice the easy choice,” including eliminating language, cultural and access barriers.

However, he said, “in higher education, University of Washington and Washington State University have indicated they are going to require COVID vaccines for kids to come back to school. I do think that is something that is increasingly being looked at.”

Though the messages will be tailored differently across the states the bottom line will be the same, Umair Shah said: The vaccines work and they are safe.

But most critically, “Vaccines are our pathway to moving forward and once and for all ending this pandemic,” he said.

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