COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

COVID-19 - Dr. Jim Halverson

Ask Dr. Halverson: Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12- to 18-year-olds very safe and effective

5 21 Halverson CORRECT graph

This is the correct graph on safe activities for those fully vaccinated, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An earlier, outdated graph was published in the May 21 print edition of the Ojai Valley News.


By Dr. Jim Halverson

When can I remove my mask?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds on May 10.  Pfizer’s data from clinical trials have shown that its mRNA vaccine was 100% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in this age group.

Though most children have milder symptoms when infected with the coronavirus, about 1.5 million cases in children 11 to 17 were reported to the Centers for Disease Control between March 1, 2020, and April 30 of 2021.

Most health experts have said the United States needs to vaccinate children before the pandemic can truly be brought under control. The 12- to 15-year-old age group represents 17 million people, about 5% of the total U.S. population. Thus far, 58.7% of U.S. adults ages 18 and over have had at least one dose of a vaccine (154 million people) and 45.1% are fully vaccinated. 

web 4 17 Halverson photo

It is very important to get these adolescents vaccinated before the resumption of school in the fall. High school students, in particular, are known to be just about as susceptible and just about as good at passing along the coronavirus as younger adults. Vaccinations should help significantly lessen the possibility of a fall surge in COVID-19 cases and allow schools to resume educating students on campus with fewer restrictions.

Not surprisingly, a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, published May 6, showed that slightly less than a third (29%) of parents of children under age 18 said they would get their children vaccinated “right away.” An additional 32% said they would wait to see how the vaccine is working before getting their child inoculated. The remaining parents said that their child would be vaccinated only if their school requires it (15%) or definitely would not vaccinate their child (19%).

Parents’ intentions for their children largely lined up with their intentions for themselves. Among parents who have already received at least one dose of the vaccine, 48% said they would get their children vaccinated right away and 29% said they would wait and see how the vaccine was working before getting their child inoculated.

Here are several facts regarding the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the 12-  to 15-year-old age group.

1. The vaccine is highly effective. Pfizer’s data showed immune responses to the vaccine were even more robust than adults’. This immune response has been tracked exceedingly carefully and it does not trigger the inflammatory pathway (cytokine storm) that can occur in severe COVID-19 cases.

2. The vaccine will not affect fertility. Virtually every vaccine given to children and adolescents has been accused of this by people opposed to vaccinations. No connection to infertility has ever been found with any of them. The Pfizer mRNA vaccine enters our cell and serves as a template for antibody development and almost immediately disintegrates into little pieces that are inert.

3. The vaccine is safe. Many children in the trials have felt a little tired, experienced a sore arm, or had a low-grade fever for one to two days. The symptoms were almost always gone within 48 hours. No severe reactions have been reported in this age group.

Trials by Moderna on its mRNA vaccine have thus far shown 96% efficacy in the same age group. The company is working with regulators to extend use of its vaccine to teens and adolescents, perhaps by the end of May. In addition, Pfizer and other vaccine makers are also testing their vaccine in even younger children. It expects to have results for those ages 2 to 11 by September, and for those down to 6 months old by the end of this year.

Understanding recent CDC guidelines regarding masks for those fully vaccinated

The CDC announced that fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear masks or physically distance, regardless of location or size of gathering on May 13. (See accompanying illustration.) What does that mean for us now?

These are guidelines and will not immediately change what we can do in our local area. We still must follow all federal, state and local regulations. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration still requires mask use on all domestic flights in the United States through September 13. Locally, no immediate change has happened in mask requirements in Ojai or Ventura County. 

I expect that our mask regulations will likely change on June 15 when the California Department of Public Health announces the reopening regulations for activities and businesses. Ventura County and the city of Ojai are very likely to quickly approve them.

Until then, my wife, Robyn, and I are enjoying the opportunity to spend time with many of our friends, without masking, at our homes. On May 15, 13 of us (all fully vaccinated, of course), got together at our home to enjoy a potluck dinner outside followed by a showing of the Nordhoff High School musical, “Theory of Relativity,” in our living room. No masks were required. All of us felt as if we were experiencing some sense of normalcy in our personal relationships. I hope you have had or will have that opportunity soon.

It was a wonderful evening. It could only have happened because of the work of so many who have made sure that we had safe and effective vaccines and because of all of you who are getting vaccinated. 

Stay properly informed. Follow your local, state and federal regulations. Stay hopeful. Stay safe. Be well.

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who writes a weekly column about COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.