CDC panel OK's Pfizer for 12- to 15-year-olds after safety review. Shots could go in arms tomorrow.

·5 min read
COVID Shot
A person is injected with a COVID-19 vaccine at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California, March 11, 2021. Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images
  • A panel of CDC advisors voted Wednesday to allow Pfizer's vaccine to be administered to teens aged 12-15.

  • The vote by the independent committee of 15 experts was near unanimous, with 14 in favor and one recusal.

  • "This is another way to get closer to ending this horrible pandemic," one advisor said.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A Centers For Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee gave Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine the go ahead for use in teenagers from 12 to 15 years old on Wednesday.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky formally adopted the recommendation by Wednesday evening, allowing for the shots to be put into the arms of middle and high schoolers across the country as early as Thursday.

President Joe Biden praised the news as "one more giant step in our fight against the pandemic" and encouraged all eligible people to get vaccinated right away.

The committee's blessing (14 'yes' votes, 1 recusal) came after a full day of discussion, data dissection, and debate among the 15 independent infectious disease experts who advise the CDC on how to use vaccines safely and ethically across the US.

"This will mean the rest of my family can be vaccinated," Dr. Helen Talbot from Vanderbilt University said, after she voted yes for the decision. "I'm ever so thankful."

Others on the committee shared her relief.

"The childhood experience that our kids have gone through will have long lasting consequences that may extend across generations, to be honest," Dr. Grace Lee, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University who is also on the committee, said. "We don't really fully yet understand the total physical health, mental health, and educational impact of the pandemic on our kids."

The vaccine was 100% effective in a trial of nearly 2,000 teenagers

Junior Molly Day gets her first Pfizer Biontech COVID vaccine at Ridley High School in Ridley, PA
Junior Molly Day gets her first Pfizer shot at Ridley High School in Ridley, Pennsylvania on May, 3, 2021. Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group/Daily Times via Getty Images

Pfizer's vaccine, which is already authorized for those who are over the age of 16 in the US, was green-lit for younger teens after being declared safe and effective in a company trial during which more than 1,000 12- to 15-year-olds received two doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.

Compared to more than 970 of their peers in the study who did not get vaccinated, the Pfizer-armed teens were much better protected from COVID-19, the study found.

Among teens who got both of their shots, there were no COVID-19 cases, winning Pfizer's vaccine 100% efficacy in this trial.

It's a good sign, said panel member Dr. Matthew Dale, of the Institute for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado.

"We're in this very privileged position where we can see declining deaths and declining case rates because of these vaccines, and so this is just another group that will be vaccinated that'll continue those downward trends," Dale said.

On the placebo side of the trial - those who did not get a vaccine - 18 teens came down with COVID-19 during the study.

There were also three teens in the vaccine group who got COVID-19 in the days after their first shot, when they had not yet attained full protection against the virus. These infections in semi-vaccinated teens are another clear indication that vaccines don't work like a magic wand. Vaccine-takers have to be patient, especially in the 14 days after vaccination, still diligently masking and distancing, in order to avoid infection.

The CDC said that COVID-19 could be considered a leading cause of death among teens

pfizer administered to a teenager
A teen 'COVID-19 student ambassador' received a dose of Pfizer at Ford Field on April 6, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

Though the risks of catching COVID-19 tend to be lower for teens than for adults, there have been more than 1.5 million reported cases of COVID-19 in US teens, and more than 13,000 hospitalizations in this age group.

At least 127 teenagers in the US have died of COVID-19 during the pandemic, which makes the disease one of the top 10 causes of death for people aged 13 to 18 years old, when compared to the latest mortality numbers from 2019.

Teens who get COVID-19 can also spread the disease much like adults do, meaning that when infected they are more of a viral threat to their parents, caregivers, and teachers than little kids.

A 16-year-old getting her Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
A 16-year-old got her Pfizer-COVID-19 vaccine at UCI Health Family Health Center in Anaheim, California on April 28, 2021 as her mom watched. Paul Bersebach/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

"This is a really important issue for this summer," Dr. Camille Kotton from the committee said, after she voted yes to allow the shots for teens. "It's also a very good way to provide better community immunity, especially for immunocompromised patients who have these teenagers in their families, and this is another way to get closer to ending this horrible pandemic."

The CDC advisory committee also changed its recommendations around administering other vaccines with COVID-19 shots on Wednesday, saying people can get their COVID-19 vaccine along with other shots. Many childhood vaccines have been coadministered for many years, and many teens have fallen behind on routine vaccinations during the pandemic.

The Pfizer vaccine for teens is exactly the same as the one for adults, both in dosage and timing. 12- to 16-year-olds are advised to get two shots, administered three weeks apart. They may be considered "fully vaccinated" seven days after their second shot, according to Pfizer data.

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