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Young teens will soon be eligible for COVID shots

Young teens ages 12 to 15 could begin receiving vaccinations against COVID-19 as early as tomorrow (Thursday), or early next week.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to administer the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine to the younger age group on Monday, and a Centers for Disease Control advisory committee was expected to give its OK by today.

During a news conference, FDA Doctor Peter Marx, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologic Evaluation and Research, said Pfizer/BioNTech conducted a randomized study of 2,000 teens ages 12 to 15, with 1,005 receiving the vaccine and the remainder received a placebo. None of the 1,005 who received the vaccine contracted COVID-19, while 17 of the other group caught the virus. Side effects were no different from those in adults, Marx said.

The results show the vaccine is 100 percent effective, even higher than the 95-percent efficacy among adults. In comparison, the flu vaccine has an efficacy of about 45 percent.

The FDA will announce the criteria it will use in considering authorization of the vaccine for children under 12 on June 10.

In Letcher County, the Pfizer vaccine has been going to Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital, since ARH has the deep freeze capabilities necessary to store the vaccine in Hazard. It can stay in a regular pharmaceutical refrigerator for up to 14 days, but when it is thawed, diluted and refrigerated, it must be used within five days. It is good for just six hours at room temperature.

“I think as soon as they issue the actual EUA (emergency use authorization), we can start getting people on the schedule,” said Dena Sparkman, Community Chief Executive Officer for the Whitesburg hospital. “To be on the safe side, people can call now to get on the schedule for next week.”

Anyone who wants to do that can call 606-633-3525 or sign up on the ARH web site. Sparkman said ARH has also worked well with Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation and local pharmacies and expects to continue that.

Mike Caudill, CEO of MCHC, said his organization does not currently have an independent supplier of Pfizer vaccine.

“One of the problems is the extreme storage temperatures that are required,” he said. “Having said that, we will reevaluate our position, but will most likely collaborate with someone like ARH, which we have done in the past to give our Pfizer vaccines.”

Letcher County School Superintendent Denise Yont said she has already been in discussions with MCHC about possibly having a mass vaccination day for students as it had for teachers and staff in the spring. Then the district partnered with Jenkins Independent Schools, and both districts vaccinated their faculty members and staff at the same time.

The schools did a survey of students 16 and over and found only 27 were interested in getting the vaccine, and Yonts said the district will probably do the same with parents of younger children. If there is enough interest, she might try to schedule a day this summer.

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