Updated May 12, 2021 - 10:03 pm
A scientific review workgroup of Western states late Wednesday unanimously concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is safe and effective for adolescents ages 12 to 15, clearing the way for Nevadans of that age group to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot.
“Nevada’s teens will be able to access the vaccine at pharmacies, at their doctor’s offices, at the mass vaccination sites that are currently running,” said Karissa Loper with the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, ahead of finalized approval late Wednesday.
The state also is working to add sites and trying to determine if schools can be used as vaccination clinics, Loper said in a media briefing.
On Wednesday, an advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the Pfizer vaccine be made available to adolescents. The recommendation came on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration’s decision Monday to expand its emergency use authorization to include this age group.
The Western State Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, of which Nevada is a member, concurred in its final approval late Wednesday.
“I am excited that we can now open vaccination to this age group and this announcement is an important step to protecting our children as every vaccine given puts our state one step closer to recovery,” Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement.
Earlier Wednesday, Loper said, “Updated guidance and information about administering the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to adolescents will be provided to Nevada vaccinators.”
Eager for vaccine
Reno family and urgent care practitioner Dr. Bayo Curry-Winchell has been encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible.
“No. 1, it provides a new level of protection,” she said. “It also helps us get to that level of herd immunity,” where enough people in a community have immunity to make it difficult for a disease to spread.
“And it really provides the ability for upcoming summer camps, activities, visiting grandparents, all the things that we’d love to do, especially in the summer,” said Curry-Winchell, regional clinical director for Carbon Health and medical director for Saint Mary’s Medical Group in Reno.
Dr. Evelyn Montalvo Stanton, chair of the department of pediatrics at the Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine at UNLV, agreed that some parents are eager to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible “to lead a normal life, going back to what it was before.”
Vaccination will ease some parents’ concerns about their children returning to the classroom or visiting frail grandparents, said Montalvo Stanton, a pediatric pulmonologist. But other parents may hesitate to get their children vaccinated.
“There always is a group of families that are worried about side effects and would prefer to hold out,” she said. There is a remote chance that the Pfizer vaccine will cause an extreme allergic reaction in a recipient, according to the FDA.
If parents haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine themselves, they may, in turn, not wish to get their children inoculated, said Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief health officer for the Southern Nevada Health District.
“The same concerns that we have with vaccine hesitancy in adults translate to children,” he said.
Although less likely than adults to get seriously ill from COVID-19, children are susceptible to its effects.
Children ages 5 to 17 represent about 10 percent of cases in Clark County, and 1 percent of hospitalizations, according to data from the health district. Four children in this age group have died, representing 0.1 percent of the county’s COVID-19 deaths.
There also have been 64 cases in Clark County of a rare but serious coronavirus-related syndrome in children called multisystem inflammatory syndrome. It causes inflammation in multiple organs of the body.
Required for school?
A health district representative said it was unlikely at this point that vaccination would be required for Clark County students. Authorized under emergency use, the vaccine does not yet have the full approval of the FDA.
“This makes it very unlikely that the vaccine could be mandatory for Clark County students, since it does not have a full approval status from the FDA and such action may trigger legal challenges for school authorities,” representative Stephanie Bethel said.
In a Facebook forum with parents Tuesday, Clark County schools Superintendent Jesus Jara said he doubted that COVID-19 vaccination would be required for students when the vaccine has not received full approval. But he said the decision ultimately would be made by the state.
A spokeswoman for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services said the agency will not require vaccination of students at this time.
“Required vaccination for students will be discussed further but at this time the state will not be requiring COVID-19 vaccination,” representative Shannon Litz said in an email.