South Carolinians as young as 12 may be able to get a COVID-19 shot as early as Wednesday afternoon, when a group of advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are scheduled to meet to recommend how the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should be used for adolescents.
A state Department of Health and Environmental Control spokeswoman said Tuesday that South Carolina was waiting for the CDC’s recommendation before notifying the state’s vaccine providers they could administer the Pfizer vaccine to anyone 12 and older.
The long-awaited expansion of vaccine eligibility to adolescents comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday cleared the Pfizer vaccine for use in children age 12 to 15 after research found it to be safe and effective for that age group. Previously, the Pfizer vaccine had only been authorized for use in people 16 and older.
The coronavirus vaccines produced by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are currently only authorized for use in people 18 and older, but both manufacturers have trials with children underway.
DHEC did not say how many more South Carolina residents would become eligible as a result of the pending expansion in vaccine eligibility.
While young people generally experience milder coronavirus symptoms than adults, the agency is strongly encouraging children age 12 to 15 to get a jab as soon as they’re able.
Not only can coronavirus cases in adolescents be severe on occasion, children also can spread the virus to others who may be more susceptible to serious disease, state health officials said. Continued circulation of COVID-19 in the community also contributes to the likelihood that a more lethal or contagious strain of the virus evolves.
“Vaccinating those age 12 and up will help to slow community transmission,” assistant state epidemiologist Jane Kelly said last week on a call with reporters. “And as we slow community transmission, which is at moderate levels in South Carolina as a whole right now, it’ll slow the virus from circulating.
“We’ll have fewer people infected, fewer people in the hospital, fewer serious complications and deaths.”
Children age 12 to 15 will be able to get a COVID-19 shot at any provider across the state currently administering the Pfizer vaccine, but must obtain consent from a parent or guardian before doing so, DHEC spokeswoman Laura Renwick said. Parental consent is not required for South Carolinians age 16 and older.
Parents of children age 12 to 15 will be provided a copy of the emergency use authorization fact sheet for the Pfizer vaccine when consent is given or the shot is administered, Renwick said.
Initially, vaccine providers will ask parents or guardians to sign their own unique immunization consent forms. A paper consent form may not be necessary in the future, however, if the federal government adds a parental consent component to its Vaccine Administration Management System, or VAMS, as it is reportedly planning to do.
DHEC officials are in the process of coordinating with the South Carolina Hospital Association and the South Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to ensure pediatricians in the state know they can sign up to become coronavirus vaccine providers.
While state health officials are not presently requiring that school-age children get vaccinated, they are encouraging districts to hold school-based vaccination clinics where both students and their unvaccinated family members can get inoculated.
Due to the potential for side effects, which can include flu-like symptoms that typically last no more than 24 hours, public health director Brannon Traxler recommended parents get their children vaccinated on Fridays or Saturdays.
As of Tuesday, nearly 1.8 million South Carolinians had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose (43.4% of those eligible) and more than 1.4 million had completed their vaccinations (34.6% of those eligible), according to DHEC data.