Roughly 250,000 young South Carolinians are now eligible for a shot in the arm, following the federal authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12.
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials said children age 12 to 15 could start getting vaccinated in the state as soon as Thursday.
The expansion in vaccine eligibility comes after the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on late Wednesday greenlighted the Pfizer vaccine’s use in children 12 and older following an agency panel’s review. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the Pfizer vaccine for use in children age 12 to 15 earlier in the week after research found it to be safe and effective for that age group.
Previously, the Pfizer vaccine had only been authorized for use in people 16 and older. The COVID-19 shots produced by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still only authorized for use in people 18 and older, but both manufacturers have trials with children underway.
Because teens and preteens account for a significant number of new COVID-19 cases in South Carolina, state health officials view the age group as an important cohort to vaccinate.
Residents age 11 to 20 made up 18% of new cases in the state over the past month, second only to those age 21 to 30, who accounted for 19% of new cases, DHEC spokesman Laura Renwick said.
“Vaccinating this age group is essential to stopping the spread of COVID-19 and getting the disease under control,” public health director Brannon Traxler said Wednesday. “We know that young people who are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus typically don’t experience the same severe illness as older age groups. However, they are carriers of the virus and can easily and unknowingly spread the virus throughout their communities. With cases of variant strains continuing to increase, it’s important now more than ever that young people get vaccinated, to not only protect themselves but to protect those people around them.”
Children age 12 to 15 will be able to get a COVID-19 shot at any provider in the state that offers the Pfizer vaccine, but must obtain consent from a parent or guardian before doing so.
As of Wednesday, nearly 1.8 million South Carolinians had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose (43.6% of those eligible) and more than 1.4 million had completed their vaccinations (35% of those eligible), according to DHEC data.