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When can 12- to 15-year-olds start getting COVID-19 vaccines? What we know

Woman fills a syringe with vaccine.
The FDA has authorized Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines for children 12 to 15 years old.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The next step in the COVID-19 vaccine campaign is about to begin.

On Monday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized COVID-19 vaccine distribution for use in children ages 12 to 15.

COVID-19 vaccine appointments for Californians aged 12 to 15 could become available as soon as Thursday.

If everything goes to plan, California’s MyTurn vaccine appointment site will begin making appointments available on Thursday morning, state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said. The exact timing for when other vaccine providers will begin to offer appointments will vary.

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The availability is expected to come after an advisory committee on immunization practices for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention meets Wednesday and issues recommendations. Later Wednesday night, a vaccine advisory group for California and other Western states will then meet to issue its own recommendations.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective for children aged 12 to 15.

California health officials urged parents to bring their children to get immunized, saying increasing vaccinations will protect children against a rare but serious and potentially deadly complication associated with COVID-19, Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) and also help keep children from becoming infected and passing along the contagious virus to other vulnerable people.

Los Angeles County officials said they may want to continue using their four mass vaccination sites to inoculate youths ages 12 to 15 now that the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for that group.

The county said it will offer the vaccine to pre-teens and younger teens once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirms the FDA’s recommendation, which could happen as early as Wednesday.

Those under the age of 18 will need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to receive the vaccine.

Vaccine hesitancy is making herd immunity for COVID-19 seem more elusive than ever. Could that change once the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for children as young as 12?

Another unknown factor is how many parents will allow their kids to get shots.

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A Kaiser Family Foundation survey released May 6, before the FDA action, found 3 in 10 parents of children ages 12-15 say that they will get their child vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available, one-quarter say they will wait a while to see how the vaccine is working, 18% plan to get their child vaccinated if their school requires it and nearly a quarter say they will definitely not get their child vaccinated. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, parents’ intentions for vaccinating their kids largely line up with their own intentions for getting the COVID-19 vaccine themselves,” the study said.

Experts say adding these younger teens to the vaccine list will help families participate in more outside activities together and continue to build immunity in communities. This younger group does not face a particularly high risk of becoming very sick with COVID-19 and taking up hospital beds.

“It’s not revolutionary or game-changing, but to my mind, it’s significant. The path to beating this virus is taking lots of small steps. This is one of those small steps,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

The addition of 12- to 15-year-olds comes at a time when local officials are expanding access to the vaccine, which is now widely available without an appointment.

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There are now more than 750 sites offering vaccinations in Los Angeles County, including pharmacies, clinics, community sites and hospitals. Many are concentrated in areas with lower levels of community health, which have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Among the county’s adults and older teens, 60% of white, 68% of Asian American and 58% of Native American residents have received at least one dose of vaccine. But only 38% of Black and 42% of Latino residents in this age group have received one dose.

Teenagers and the youngest adults are also less likely to have received a shot. The majority of adults in their 30s and older have received one shot, but among the youngest adults — up to age 29 — only 45% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and among 16- and 17-year-olds, only 34% have gotten at least one shot.

And while 62% of eligible female residents of L.A. County have received at least one vaccine dose, only 56% of men have.

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Times staff writer Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.


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