The Next Step in Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic: Vaccinating 12-15-year-olds

By August 3, 2021August 12th, 2021Expert Advice Featured Well-being
Father and son greeting with elbow bump after school

In May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer vaccine) for emergency use in 12-15-year-olds, which is a crucial step in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and fully reopening schools. Since then, more than 20 percent of 12-15-year-olds have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that “all eligible children, teens, family and household members be vaccinated as soon as possible.”

As a board-certified pediatrician, I’m excited for this development. And I’ll be even more excited when we can start vaccinating younger children. I know the vaccine is safe and has undergone rigorous safety testing. In fact, according to the CDC, “millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.” The clinical trial also showed that the Pfizer vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 with symptoms in children 12-15-years-old.

Facts About the COVID-19 Vaccine for 12-15-Year-Olds

There are three main COVID-19 vaccines being administered in the United States. Let’s take a look at where they stand for 12-15-year-olds.

Questions Parents May Have About the COVID-19 Vaccine for 12-15-Year-Olds

While the vaccine becoming available to 12-15-year-olds is an important step forward in the pandemic, it’s understandable that parents would have questions about the vaccine. As a pediatrician, I want to address the most common questions parents may have.

Q: What are the benefits of my 1215-year-old getting vaccinated?
A: The biggest benefit is the protection the vaccine offers: it is 100 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 complications and hospitalizations. In addition, after your teen gets vaccinated, they can participate in many of the activities they did before the pandemic.

Q: If COVID-19 cases in children are generally mild, why does my child need to get the vaccine?
A: Although most COVID-19 infections in children are relatively mild, according to the director of the CDC, “some children do get severely ill and require hospitalization. There have also been rare, tragic cases of children dying from COVID-19 and its effects, including multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.” In addition, some children can experience long-term complications from COVID-19 infections.

Right now, children account for 14 percent of all new COVID-19 cases in the United States. And while the majority of these cases may be mild or asymptomatic, the CDC recently reported a rise in hospitalizations among 12- to 15-year-olds, likely due to relaxed COVID-19 restrictions and new variants. Nearly 30 percent of all the hospitalized teens had no known underlying medical conditions. The fact is, as long as COVID-19 infections are circulating, the pandemic will continue. Children make up nearly one quarter of the world’s population and are critical to achieving population immunity.

As it stands, the vaccines appear to be effective against the variants in terms of keeping people out of the hospital. However, it’s also important to remember that COVID-19 is changing by the minute. The virus is constantly mutating into different and potentially more dangerous variants that could be serious for children and unvaccinated adults. That’s why vaccinating children ages 12 to 15 is a significant step forward in ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also important to remember that children receive routine vaccinations for diseases with similar mortality rates (such as measles).

Q: Are there any vaccine side effects in children ages 12 to 15?
A: In adults, the most common side effects of the vaccine are fever, headache, muscle aches and pain, tiredness, chills, and pain at the injection site. So far, Pfizer has reported that the side effects in 12-15-year-olds appear to be the same. These side effects usually clear up in about 48 hours.

There have been a small number of reported cases of myocarditis (heart inflammation) in teens and young adult males (16 to 24 years of age) several days following the second dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna). After reviewing medical records, the CDC and FDA have confirmed 518 reports of myocarditis or pericarditis. They are investigating whether there is any connection to the COVID-19 vaccine. This is very rare considering more than 177 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The good news is most patients respond well to treatment (rest and anti-inflammatory medicine). Luckily, according to Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, Professor and Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, “the number of myocarditis cases reported in young people after vaccination doesn’t appear any larger than what’s normally seen in people this age without the vaccine.”

The CDC continues to recommend vaccination for everyone 12 years and older because the risk of COVID-19 complications is greater than the risk of vaccine-related myocarditis. If you have any questions or concerns about myocarditis or any other vaccine-related side effect, please discuss with your primary care provider.

Q: Does the vaccine have any long-term effects on puberty or fertility?
A: There is currently no clinical evidence to suggest the vaccines can have long-term effects on puberty or fertility. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “unfounded claims linking COVID-19 vaccines to infertility have been scientifically disproven.” The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that “no loss of fertility has been reported among trial participants or among the millions who have received the vaccines since their administration.”

What’s more is that according to Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), data from Pfizer clinical trials shows that even though pregnant women were initially excluded from the trials, 23 women got pregnant after getting the vaccine.

Q: Where can my 1215-year-old get the vaccine?
A: There are numerous places offering vaccines for 12-15-year-olds as well as many initiatives that encourage teens to get vaccinated.

Q: When can we expect vaccines for the younger age groups?
A: COVID-19 vaccine trials are underway for children ages 6 months through 11 years old. Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he expects the COVID-19 vaccine to become available to children ages 2 through 11 by the end of 2021 to early 2022.

Either way, parents of younger children can rest assured that their little ones should be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in the coming months.

Further Questions

If you have any further questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for your child, I encourage you to speak to your child’s primary care physician and check out the below resources.

Dr. Anna Baldino

About Dr. Anna Baldino

Dr. Anna Baldino is a board-certified pediatrician. She graduated from Drexel University with a B.S. in Nutrition Science, and from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine with a Doctor of Osteopathy degree. She completed her pediatric residency at the UMDNJ-Osteopathic School of Medicine. Before joining Independence Blue Cross as a Medical Director in 2004, she was an Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, UMDNJ Department of Pediatrics. As part of her duties, she provided medical care to migrant worker children, to children at the local health departments, and to a local school district. Dr. Baldino is a fellow of the AAP and ACOP.