Zachary Hirata receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Zachary Hirata, 12, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Following emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, Novant Health vaccination sites are now administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children age 12 and up.

"I really want this pandemic to end," said 12-year-old Zachary Hirata, son of Novant Health nurse Jennifer Hirata. Jennifer, whose husband is Japanese, said their family is most looking forward to traveling again.

"My husband's parents live in Japan and we haven't seen them in two and a half years. We were supposed to go last March and our trip was cancelled, of course, so we're eager to go see them," she said.

In addition to authorizing the vaccine’s use for adolescents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its clinical guidance to allow COVID-19 vaccines to be administered at the same time as other routine vaccines. It had previously stated that no other vaccines be given within 14 days of the COVID vaccine.

Dr. Catherine Ohmstede smiles.
Dr. Catherine Ohmstede

"Fortunately, the Pfizer COVID vaccine is very well-tolerated by adolescents and does not cause any interactions with other vaccines. It can be given to anyone 12 and up with any other vaccine," said Dr. Catherine Ohmstede at Novant Health Dilworth Pediatrics.

Pfizer's COVID vaccine was previously approved for ages 16 and up.

Dr. David Priest
Dr. David Priest

“It’s taken a while to get this exciting news, but that reflects the safety programs the FDA has in place and what the manufacturers do to ensure the vaccine is safe for everyone we give it to,” said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety, quality and epidemiology officer.

Since children under 18 account for more than 20% of the U.S. population, this age group could help the U.S. continue to curb the spread of COVID-19. Priest weighed in on that, as well as other common questions as younger people prepare to roll up their sleeves.

The CDC is investigating reports of a heart problem in a few young vaccine recipients. Should I be concerned?

The CDC is currently reviewing reports that several dozen teens and young adults may have developed myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, after vaccination. The myocarditis seemed to occur more often in males than females and is typically seen within four days after the second dose.

Dr. Jerome Williams Jr. smiles in a white lab coat.
Dr. Jerome Williams Jr.

“These complications appear to be mild,” said Dr. Jerome Williams Jr., Novant Health senior vice president of consumer engagement. “It’s important to stress that the CDC review is still in its early stages and they have in no way suggested a pause in administration of the vaccine.”

While the CDC hasn’t found evidence the COVID vaccine caused this myocarditis, it posted guidance on its website urging people to be alert to unusual heart symptoms among young people who just received their shots.

Williams also emphasized that the potentially rare side effect of myocarditis pales in comparison to the potential risks of COVID, including the persistent syndrome called “long COVID.” Acute COVID itself can also cause myocarditis.

“We should all feel confident that the CDC is being very transparent. They're being very proactive at every stage, and closely examining all reports of adverse effects, no matter how rare or how mild,” Williams said.

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Why should children get vaccinated?

We vaccinate children for a whole host of infectious diseases, and we’ve done so for many decades with great success. I think modern society forgets about the devastation of things like polio, measles and mumps, and while the risk of those is rare, we must protect our entire society.

We’re learning more and more about how this virus works in children under 16. What we’ve seen recently is more of them becoming ill, sometimes seriously, and occasionally you have people in that age group who die.

The vaccine will protect an individual child, but also prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community. That protects all of us, including grandparents, and allows us to get back to the activities we want to do.

How effective is the vaccine for children?

Pfizer’s vaccine is at least as effective in those 12 to 15 years old as it is in adults, according to results from its trial in adolescents, which included more than 2,200 kids.

Adolescents respond very vigorously to vaccines and that’s exciting, because it means they’ll be protected quickly and hopefully for longer periods of time than older folks. That’s all the more reason people in this age group ought to be vaccinated – to prevent COVID spread in our communities.

What would you tell parents who are hesitant?

While the development of the COVID-19 vaccines may seem fast, they’re based on science that has been around for a decade. No steps were skipped whatsoever in the evaluation and safety programs related to these vaccines. There was no turning a blind eye to safety. Thousands of volunteers were willing to be vaccinated to make sure this was safe. The same steps were taken in clinical trials with children.

No manufacturer of a vaccine wants to put out an unsafe vaccine. It would potentially bankrupt a company, so they care very much about safety. They have to prove it is safe and effective, so they’re not in the business of putting stuff out there and hoping it works. And if there’s anything that comes up as a potential safety issue, everything is paused and evaluated to ensure that no one is harmed.

Does a minor need to be accompanied by an adult at their vaccination? Is parental consent required prior to vaccination?

No. North Carolina state law allows any minor to give consent for medical health services for the prevention or treatment of communicable diseases. As such, those who are 12 to 17-years-old will not need to have a parent or legal guardian schedule, accompany, or give verbal or written consent for the vaccine.

All vaccines are free for every individual, including those who do not have insurance. No identification is required.

Where and how can my 12 to 15-year-old get the vaccine?

You can schedule your child’s vaccine directly in their MyChart account or online at GetVaccinated.org. From GetVaccinated.org, you can schedule a vaccine appointment for your child with their MyChart account or as a guest. When scheduling, all patients can view which brand is available at each of our vaccination sites on a given day or time and can select their appointment time, accordingly.

You can also walk into any of our permanent vaccination sites (listed here) and request the vaccine. Please note, vaccine supply may be limited.

If you do not have Internet access or need assistance with scheduling, please call 855-NH-VAC-4U (855-648-2248) and a team member will help.

Is the number of dosing or timing between shots different for this age group?

No. Everything about the dosing, including spacing between doses, is the same for this age group as adults. This dosing regimen has been proven to work well in this age group, providing immunity with fewest side effects.

What are the side effects – are they the same as adults?

It has been reported that side effects in the clinical trials 12-15 age group were similar to young adults. Specifically:

The most common side effects were similar to those seen in adults, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, chills, muscle aches and fevers. The side effects tended to be somewhat more common in adolescents. For example, 63 percent of participants 16 and older reported fatigue, but 78 percent of those 12 to 15 years old did. About 14 percent of people 16 and over reported fevers, but 24 percent of younger adolescents did. Side effects were most common after the second dose. The vaccine has also caused very rare anaphylaxis reactions.

Really, we call these “expected” because we know these things can happen when your immune system responds to vaccines. Those expected effects will be more likely after the second dose and usually last less than a day. That means the immunization is working, and that your immune system is responding.

It’s recommended that people seek care if the expected effects last longer than a few days or if there is increased redness or tenderness at the injection site after 24 hours. Talk with your primary care physician if you have questions or concerns.

TOP PHOTO: Jaden Glenn poses with his parents after receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Both of his parents are also vaccinated.