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COVID vaccines for teens are now available in SF, elsewhere


San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip, middle right, and other health officials talked about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine now being available for kids ages 12 to 15 during a town hall May 12. Photo: Screengrab
San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip, middle right, and other health officials talked about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine now being available for kids ages 12 to 15 during a town hall May 12. Photo: Screengrab  

Youth ages 12 to 15 are now eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced May 12. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for this age group May 10. Teens can now receive the vaccine at several sites in the Bay Area.

"Pfizer, the only vaccine authorized for this age group, is very effective in teenagers with studies showing that it prevents up to 100% of COVID-19 infections and produces protective antibodies," San Francisco Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax, a gay man, said in a statement. "The science is clear; the more people we vaccinate, the more we drive down case rates and minimize the risk of transmission. Vaccines truly are our ticket out of this pandemic."

Speaking at a virtual Youth Vaccine Town Hall May 12, new San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip said that the city has an adequate vaccine supply for everyone in the 12-to-15 age group. Now that the crush of early adopters has largely been vaccinated, appointments are readily available through local health care providers, pharmacies, community clinics, and mass vaccination sites including Moscone Center and City College of San Francisco. The vaccines are available to everyone at no cost.

San Francisco is among the leading cities in vaccine administration, with 75% of adults having received their first dose and 58% being fully vaccinated. Among previously eligible 16- and 17-year-olds, two-thirds have received one dose and a third are fully vaccinated, according to Philip.

"Because so many people stepped up, understood the science, and are willing to get vaccinated, we are role models in the U.S.," she said.

Studies show vaccine safe and effective
Last December, the FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for older teens (ages 16 and 17) and adults. In clinical trials, the vaccine was 95% effective at reducing the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 and 100% effective at lowering the risk of hospitalization or death. A follow-up study with more than 2,000 participants showed that the vaccine appears to be even more effective for people ages 12 to 15: none of the teens who received the vaccine developed COVID-19, compared with 18 cases among placebo recipients.

On May 12, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted unanimously to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the 12-to-15 age group. The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, an independent review panel established by California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state, came to the same conclusion that evening.

Moderna announced in April that its vaccine is also highly effective for adolescents ages 12 to 17, and it is expected to request FDA authorization for this age group soon. The Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine is currently being tested in teens.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine uses mRNA technology to deliver genetic instructions for producing SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus proteins that trigger an immune response. It requires two doses administered three weeks apart. It does not contain live virus, cannot cause COVID-19, and does not alter human genes. Although many people develop mild side effects such as arm soreness, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms, serious reactions are rare.

Dr. Lee Atkinson-McEvoy of UCSF said during the town hall meeting that she will be getting her own teens vaccinated as soon as possible.

"The speed [of vaccine development] doesn't mean corners were cut," she said. "My 13-year-old and 15-year-old will get a vaccine as soon as I can do it. I will be up Thursday morning trying to get an appointment. I hope to get my two boys vaccinated this weekend."

Philip said her children, ages 6 and 9, are still too young to be eligible, but she is "anxiously awaiting the next round of vaccines." However, vaccines for children under age 12 are "not expected until the fall," she said.

Vaccine appointments for youth ages 12 and up can now be made through California's MyTurn website. Philip said teens who attend school in San Francisco can be vaccinated in the city even if they reside elsewhere, and she stressed that identification and documentation status will not be a barrier. Adult guardians can provide consent in person, via a written form, or over the phone. She added that health officials will talk with families if parents don't want their teen to be vaccinated, and in exceptional cases teens may be able to provide consent themselves.

Addressing an issue that remains contentious in San Francisco, Philip stressed that vaccination of children is not necessary for safely reopening schools.

"All of the research and experience reinforces that school reopening — having students in person in school — is not dependent on vaccination," she said. "We can open [schools] safely with current measures, but more youth being vaccinated will let us do more activities that we miss being able to do with each other."

People outside of San Francisco should check their county health department website or the MyTurn site. Alameda County has information here, while Marin County information is here.

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