JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The United States is preparing to take the next step in the fight against COVID-19: the vaccination of children.
Monday, the Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency use authorization to begin administering the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to kids aged 12 to 15 years old.
Local health and school officials are on now standby, as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) discusses its next step with the CDC for vaccine distribution among children.
School officials said they will support parents’ decisions on whether to have their child vaccinated, but health officials advise waiting could be detrimental.
“As a physician and also as a mother, the safety of my children is my number one priority and the safety of other people’s children is my number one priority,” said Niswonger Children’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patricia Chambers.
Chambers said parents’ hesitancy over getting their children vaccinated is understandable. However, she explained the pros outweigh the cons.
“I know that this is a scary time for parents and that you’re trying to do the best that you can to make an informed decision,” Chambers said. “I would tell parents to go to reputable sources like the AAP, and the CDC and to really seek out the background on the vaccination, its safety profile, and compare that with the risk that we know comes with patients; even young children contracting COVID-19.”
The FDA states the two Pfizer vaccine doses would be exactly the same as those given to adults 21 days apart.
“We’re just trying to make everything that we do as pediatric-centered as possible,” Chambers said. “Unlike adults, kids are used to getting vaccines pretty routinely because childhood is when you get your vaccines.”
Ballad Health officials will stick with their four main vaccination locations in Johnson City, Kingsport, Abingdon and Norton, but will are willing to make it easier for families by partnering with schools, churches and any mobile site that wants the health care system to come out in-person.
“They’ve got the smaller needles, so their supplies are on-hand and ready. As soon as we get that green light from CDC, we’ll go live there,” Ballad Health Chief Infection Prevention Officer Jamie Swift said.
Ballad officials said due to community spread in the Tri-Cities region, parents are advised to get their children vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available.
“That’s really why we’ve moved a lot of our community vaccine centers to 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. so that they can come after school. They can come after sports, practice, whatever they got going on. Come see us after that 5-6 o’clock hour and we’ll get them vaccinated,” Swift said.
Johnson City Schools health director Jennifer Norton said, “The more of our community that gets vaccinated, the more that we have that opportunity to get back to normal.”
Norton hopes students getting vaccinated will prevent them from being quarantined for long periods of time.
“They either have to do our test-out option that’s 10 days or the 14th. So, hopefully, if guidance doesn’t change, if they are fully vaccinated, and they’re exposed to a positive case, they’re exempt from quarantine,” Norton said. “So, hopefully, we keep our kids in school and they have that chance to be here and not miss as many in-person days.”
Bristol, Virginia Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Perrigan said the system plans to offer a vaccine clinic the very moment they can.
“We obviously believe that the more folks who get vaccinated, the better our chances are to having a normal school year next year, but we also understand that’s a very personal choice for families and we will respect whichever direction our families choose to go,” Perrigan said.
The CDC’s ACIP has scheduled a virtual ’emergency meeting’ for Wednesday at 11 a.m.
They will meet to update its recommendation for who should receive the Pfizer vaccine.