RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Children ages 12 to 15 were expected to start getting the coronavirus vaccine in Virginia on Thursday, with state health officials stressing that inoculating that age group will help prevent the overall spread of the disease in the state.
Many adolescents who contract the disease are far less likely to get severely ill. But they can still pass on the virus, particularly if they’re not showing symptoms, Virginia State Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said during a news conference.
“There’s an individual benefit,” Avula said. “There’s also clearly a community benefit. Because as adolescents are vaccinated, it decreases the ability for them to contract COVID and to spread COVID.”
Plus, there are practical benefits, Avula said, because inoculated kids won’t need to quarantine and stay home from school after a possible exposure. The move will make an additional 420,000 Virginians eligible for shots.
Virginia greenlighted the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as 12 late Wednesday following an endorsement by U.S. health officials. Pfizer’s vaccine has been used for months in people 16 and older, and earlier this week the Food and Drug Administration cleared its use for those as young as age 12.
Before rolling it out to the younger kids, much of the nation was awaiting recommendations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisers — and the panel concluded the same dose adults use is safe and strongly protective in those 12 to 15 years old, too. CDC advisors rapidly accepted its advisers’ recommendation.
The shots will let children safely attend camps this summer and help assure a more normal return to classrooms next school year, CDC advisers concluded.
About 20% of the U.S. population is younger than 16, according to Census data. That included about 16.7 million children between 12 and 15 in 2019.
James Lane, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, said during Thursday’s news conference that many of the state’s school districts are already holding vaccination clinics for older students. They will offer shots to the younger age group. Permission from parents will be required.
Pharmacies will also offer shots. And so will community vaccination centers starting on Friday.
“Obviously this is another strategy that we need to put in place to build that confidence that will be necessary to have all of our families choosing to come back — in addition to having all of our schools open as required under the law in the fall,” Lane said.
But even as the new front opened against the spread of the virus, there are still concerns about misinformation. And some people who have gotten their first shot have not gotten a second dose in the recommended window of time.
Avula said that 6.7 percent of Virginians who received their first vaccine dose had not gotten a second one within the recommended 42 days. That’s concerning, Avula said, because the second dose provides better protection against the more dangerous variants of the coronavirus.
Avula said that providers have been asked to offer second doses to people even if they received their first dose elsewhere. He said there are also efforts to help people understand why second shots are important.
As of Thursday morning, 47.6% of the state’s population was vaccinated with at least one dose, and 36.3% was fully vaccinated, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
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