Now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 12 to 15 Monday, what can parents expect?
Here's a breakdown of the latest developments and what's next:
When Could Kids 12 to 15 Get the COVID Vaccine?
U.S. regulators on Monday expanded use of Pfizer's shot to those as young as 12. The two-dose vaccine was already authorized for use in people 16 and older, but the expansion will allow for children to get vaccinated ahead of the fall school year.
The FDA's decision will now be followed by a meeting of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's federal vaccine advisory committee, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (known as ACIP), to discuss whether to recommend the shot for 12- to 15-year-olds.
The ACIP has already set an emergency meeting for Wednesday. According to a previously posted agenda on the CDC's website, the committee will meet virtually beginning at 10 a.m. CT, with a vote scheduled to take place after discussion beginning at 1:45 p.m.
Pfizer isn’t the only company seeking to lower the age limit for its vaccine. Results also are expected by the middle of this year from a U.S. study of Moderna’s vaccine in 12-to -17-year-olds. Pfizer is currently authorized for use on people ages 16 and up, while Moderna is authorized for people 18 and older.
What about younger kids? According to experts, those under 12 likely won't be able to receive the COVID vaccine until later this year or early next year.
Both Pfizer and Moderna have started studies in the U.S. surrounding the vaccine and children ages 6 months to 11 years. Results on those studies could come sometime in the fall.
Is the Vaccine Safe for Children?
The Food and Drug Administration declared the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15. The study found no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among kids given dummy shots.
Chicago-area health experts agreed.
"It is safe," Dr. Markeita Moore, a pediatrician with Advocate Children’s Hospital, said during a Facebook Live Wednesday. "Yes, we highly recommend it - us and the [American Academy of Pediatrics]."
How Effective is the Vaccine for Younger Groups?
The authorization announcement comes a month after Pfizer said its shot, which is the only COVID vaccine authorized in the U.S. for those age 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger population.
Pfizer in late March released preliminary results from a vaccine study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, showing there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 18 among those given dummy shots.
More intriguing, researchers found the kids developed higher levels of virus-fighting antibodies than earlier studies measured in young adults.
"Now what's important to note is that ... there have been clinical trials that have been going on for 12- to 15-year-olds, so this has been studied in this age group," Dr. Candice Robinson, medical director for the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. "The same way it was studied in the adults before it was authorized for use in adults, it's also been studied in our 12- to 15-year-olds as well. And what they found [is] it works for most studies. The high level overviews work very well, been very protective in that age group, and they found no serious safety or concerns about that."
Where Will You Be Able to Get the Vaccine for Kids Ages 12-15?
At Northwestern Children’s Practice in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, pediatricians have the Pfizer vaccine ready to go in the specialized freezer it requires. Parents can schedule the shots for kids in the approved age group once the FDA and the CDC give the okay.
But the subzero storage may be a challenge for some pediatricians to offer it in-office.
“I think a lot of parents probably would feel more comfortable getting in their pediatrician's office, but whether you get it at the pediatrician or the pharmacy or health department, I think the shot is the shot at that point,” Dr. Scott Goldstein, a pediatrician at Northwestern Children’s Practice said.
A spokesperson for Cook County Health said administrators at its five locations offering the Pfizer vaccine will welcome children, accompanied by a parent, once the FDA and CDC give the green light. Parents can make appointments and walk-ins will also be welcome.
Chris Hoff, the Director for Community Health Resources in DuPage County, said children ages 12-15, accompanied by a parent, will be accepted at the community vaccination site at the DuPage County Fairgrounds.
“The goal will be to make sure the vaccine is widely available to a group that really should be prioritized for vaccine, especially as we look to school in the fall and reduction in transmission all over the community,” Hoff said.
In a statement, Hannah Goering, spokesperson for the Lake County Health Department, wrote, “We are still working through the details on logistics and are eagerly awaiting this authorization. In addition to offering appointments (with a parent or legal guardian present) at our mass vaccination sites, we are working with area pediatricians and family medicine doctors to help get them set up to offer COVID-19 to their child patients and their families and have over 100 healthcare providers lined up so far.”
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital is now scheduling appointments for ages 16 and up, and will offer appointments to age 12 to 15 once the approval happens.
A spokesperson for Advocate Children’s Hospital said the hospital "will be ready immediately to begin scheduling adolescents 12-15."
"We are currently already doing ages 16-18," the spokesperson said. "Will not have to be Advocate Aurora patients—we will immunize anyone in that age group. We cannot schedule until approval, but parents will be able to go to www.aah.org to schedule, once approved.”
Do Kids Need the Vaccine When They Haven't Been Affected by the Virus as Much as Adults?
According to doctors at Advocate Children's Hospital, the answer is yes.
"We've had kids hospitalized since the beginning of the pandemic, some who have been quite ill," Moore said. "We also in June of this past year, started to see the inflammatory syndrome that we've mentioned before... and those kids can be very sick down to very young ages, down to toddler ages."
According to new figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics, COVID-19 infections in children are remaining stubbornly constant.
The data showed that children are now making up 22% of COVID-19 infections and they are about 1.2 to 3.1% of hospitalizations.
At least 296 children have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone and more than 15,000 have been hospitalized, according to a tally by the AAP.
Dr. Grace Lee, a pediatric epidemiologist at Stanford Children's Health said vaccines for children could lead to plummeting infection rates.
“Having vaccines gives you a huge layer of protection that goes above and beyond with what we can do with masking and social distancing and cohorting, etc,” she said.
Dr. Frank Belmonte, chief medical officer at Advocate Children’s Hospital, also noted that children getting vaccinated can help prevent spread among adults as well.
"Actually, in that 12 to 18 age range, there's about a 20% transmissibility," he said. "So even if they don't get, you know, really sick from the virus they can spread it to family members or to other vulnerable folks in their community."
Do Children Experience the Same Side Effects?
Kids had side effects similar to young adults, Pfizer said.
The younger teens received the same vaccine dosage as adults and reported the same side effects, mostly sore arms and flu-like fever, chills or aches that signal a revved-up immune system, particularly after the second dose.
Robinson also noted that sore arms and similar common side effects associated with the vaccine were most common for younger populations receiving the vaccine, but said no concerns have so far been raised/
"I think the side effect profiles for kids are probably some of the same things we see, you know, with vaccines with adults," she said. "The sore arms and things like that are kind of the most common side effects after vaccination and things that kids see after their vaccination with their routine vaccinations, as well, but no serious safety concerns have been identified with the use of Pfizer in this age group at this time."
Moore echoed that claim, saying side effects for the younger group will likely be similar to 16- to 25-year-olds.
"They will have the same type of side effects as the 16 through the 25 group, which is injection site pain, which is fatigue, which is headaches," she said. "So those are the most common ones... It's not permanent, it is transient for about 24 to 48 hours."
Chicago's top doctor also said preliminary information did not indicate younger groups saw more or less side effects than others.
"From the preliminary information that I've seen, they were not seeing higher side effects in kids, and they were seeing very, very good levels of protection when they look for antibodies in the blood. [It's] actually been a little better than what they'd seen in the young adults," CDPH Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
Will the Vaccine Be Required in Schools in Illinois?
According to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker no decisions have been made so far.
"We have time to make some decisions about all that," Pritzker said.
Already a number of universities in Illinois are requiring vaccinations for students to attend during the fall, including Loyola, DePaul and Columbia College.
But no guidance has been given surrounding public or private elementary, middle or high schools around the state.
"There are other states where they're going to require students to be vaccinate before they come back to campus in the fall. You know, that's something we've looked at," Pritzker said. "I would like for, you know, we'll see what percent of the population at schools this spring show up to get vaccinated. And over the summer, and you know, we'll have to make some decisions about that as well."
In Chicago, the city's top doctor said while it may be a possibility, there are no guidelines in place so far.
"It’s going to be a big conversation," Arwady said. "I think at schools really across the country having a fully approved vaccine including for kids I think is one of the first steps in that conversation. But my goal really always is not to mandate, but instead to encourage educate and help people understand that if they get vaccinated, their child gets vaccinated, that’s the most important thing to do."
What is the Guidance for Parents Should the Vaccine be Recommended by Federal Officials?
"The recommendation for parents [is] the same as they get for vaccinations themselves," Robinson said. "You really want to get your kid vaccinated to make sure that they are covered and protected [to] get that most protection from that vaccine against COVID. So the recommendation will be ... the same if the FDA authorizes it."
Arwady also noted that, assuming both the FDA and CDC recommend use of the vaccine in such populations, earlier vaccinations will be beneficial for some.
"Don't wait until, you know, just prior to school," she said. "We know kids are wanting to do sports this summer and go to camp and be with friends, and we still have a lot of COVID around... When I think about being able to have kids over 12 vaccinated, we know older kids, you know, are more likely to spread COVID than the youngest kids. And so [I'm] really excited about the possibility of having a vaccine."
Is the Vaccine Safe for Kids With Seasonal and Peanut Allergies?
According to the doctors at Advocate Children's Hospital, the answer is yes.
What Can You Do If Your Children Aren't Old Enough to Get Vaccinated?
"Both Pfizer and Moderna currently have studies that are ongoing for vaccine down to six months so maybe into next year we may actually see vaccine for our people less than 12 years of age, so stay tuned for that and keep looking out," Robinson said. "But in the meantime, you know, there will still be some protective things that you will need, the children will need to continue to do because they can't get vaccinated. So still make sure they're washing their hands, wearing their masks, social distancing in the appropriate settings and following the CDC guidance for persons who are unvaccinated."
Chicago's top doctor also said that vaccinating those who are eligible around the children can also keep them protected.
"If you can get all the adults vaccinated around the kids risk really goes down a lot, " Arwady said. "And then assuming teenagers coming here too - I don't know if you've got an older brother or cousin, etc. - but like, you know, the best way to be protected is to be surrounded by a lot of people who are vaccinated themselves. And then as our case numbers go down here, right, like the risk will go lower and lower and lower."
Will There Be Exceptions for Younger Children With Certain Conditions?
According to experts, the answer is likely no.
"No exceptions," Moore said. "We have to go with the [emergency use authorization] usage."