Covid Vaccination For Kids : Short Wave Some colleges and universities have announced that COVID vaccination will be mandatory (with some exemptions) and the FDA has authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15. While coronavirus infections are declining in the United States, vaccination rates also appear to be slowing down, so pediatricians and public health officials say they're trying to spread the word to overcome hesitancy, and get the vaccine out to people where they go to school and shop. Emily talks with NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey about this and other topics in the pandemic news.

If you'd like to assistant on finding a vaccination site, you can dial 1-800-232-0233 or go to vaccines.gov (English) or vacunas.gov (Spanish) for more information.

Have questions about the latest coronavirus headlines? Email us at shortwave@npr.org and we might cover it on a future episode.

Pediatricians Work To Persuade Parents And Teens To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

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MADDIE SOFIA, BYLINE: You're listening to SHORT WAVE...

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SOFIA: ...From NPR.

EMILY KWONG, HOST:

Hey, everybody. Emily Kwong here with NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey, who has been a SHORT WAVE regular lately, giving us the latest on the pandemic. Hey, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Hi, Emily. A pleasure to be here again.

KWONG: And this week, there is some positive news. New cases of coronavirus continue to fall. Around the country, almost 44% of the adult population is now vaccinated. And Monday evening, the FDA authorized the use of the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds. So today on the show, we're going to talk about that and new CDC models, which offer hope that the U.S. is on the right track for a summer that may feel a bit more familiar.

AUBREY: And just in time for Memorial Day weekend. That is coming up on SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.

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KWONG: OK, Allison Aubrey, we've been hearing for weeks now that this age group, 12- to 15-year-olds, are next. What do we know about how the vaccine works for them?

AUBREY: Sure. Well, scientists at the FDA have been reviewing the clinical trial data that included more than 2,000 kids, and it appears to be all positive. Children in this age group develop a lot of antibodies. They have very mild side effects. And Pfizer says all the participants in the trial will continue to be monitored for long-term protection and safety for an additional two years.

KWONG: Got it. So as far as efficacy and side effects are concerned, it's basically affecting them just like it is adults?

AUBREY: Yeah, pretty much so. I spoke to Patricia Stinchfield. She is a nonvoting member of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. This is the group that makes recommendations.

KWONG: OK.

AUBREY: She says from what's been released so far, the vaccine appears to be very effective.

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PATRICIA STINCHFIELD: In this age group, seems to be 100% effective. No child in the study...

KWONG: Wow.

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STINCHFIELD: ...That 12- to 15-year-old adolescents - got COVID.

AUBREY: Very few kids got a fever. Many had arm pain, just like adults. And Stinchfield says the benefits seem to far outweigh any risks.

KWONG: That's kind of incredible - 100% effective.

AUBREY: Right. And that's what was shown in the trial setting. Now, in the real world, we might come to find out it isn't 100%. But certainly, this early data suggests it's very, very effective.

KWONG: But it appears that some parents are hesitant to get this vaccine for their kids, right?

AUBREY: Yes. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found only 3 in 10 parents of children in this age group say they would get their child vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available. Many say they'll wait.

Now, I spoke to Dr. Lee Beers about this. She's the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She says she's not surprised that there's hesitancy out there, and she says pediatricians are going to be working really hard in the coming weeks and months to reassure parents and help answer questions.

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LEE BEERS: We as pediatricians feel incredibly confident in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. We feel confident in the process that led to its development and are really incredibly encouraged.

AUBREY: She's the mom of a 16-year-old who has already gotten the vaccine. She also has a 12-year-old who is on a list to be notified for an appointment as soon as it's available. And we're seeing this a lot, that, you know, pediatricians are saying, look; hey, I am giving this vaccine to my child. And hopefully that helps to build support.

KWONG: Yeah. So are we at kind of an inflection point in the vaccine campaign?

AUBREY: You know, I do think we're at this interesting moment. On one hand, survey data suggests that hesitancy in adults has begun to wane, to diminish. For instance, a recent Kaiser poll also found that there's been a decrease in the share of Republicans who say that they will definitely not get vaccinated, also seems to be decreasing hesitancy among Black Americans. But at the same time, I think overall enthusiasm has leveled off. I mean, most people who were eager to get vaccinated have, and now it's kind of wait and see how many people will, you know, show up to get the shots.

KWONG: OK. So, Allison, now that the Pfizer vaccine is authorized for 12- to 15-year-olds, will pediatricians be able to vaccinate kids right in their offices?

AUBREY: Yes, some pediatricians will offer it. Also, over 15,000 pharmacies will also be ready to vaccinate kids in this age group.

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AUBREY: I spoke to a pediatrician in Cincinnati, Ohio - Dr. Nicole Baldwin. She says her practice will offer the vaccine, as will some local high schools.

NICOLE BALDWIN: Several of our larger public high schools and even some of our private high schools are offering vaccine clinics.

AUBREY: And Dr. Baldwin says despite the hesitancy among parents that has shown up in these surveys, if you talk directly to teenagers, many of them are very excited about it because after, you know, months and months and over a year of missing out on so many activities, this vaccine can bring liberation.

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BALDWIN: My patients, for the most part, are chomping at the bit to get this vaccine. They cannot wait. They're very excited.

AUBREY: And she says making it convenient for people to get the shots really can help.

KWONG: Yeah. So perhaps we're seeing less hesitancy, then, among this age group, the 12- to 15-year-olds. But there's still hesitancy, you're saying, at large among some people.

AUBREY: There is undoubtedly still hesitancy out there. I mean, some places have more doses than demand. But as our colleague Jon Hamilton has reported, what may sometimes seem like hesitancy is really just a matter of people being able to access the vaccine easily. So there are a lot of new efforts to go directly to people in their communities, to have mobile clinics. Also, Walmart now has walk-up vaccinations at thousands of its stores, no appointment necessary. I spoke to Joey Marshall (ph). He's a pharmacist at the Walmart in Smithville, Tenn.

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JOEY MARSHALL: I actually put a table right in the front of the store as people walked in, and we're having some success at getting more people vaccinated. They're just shopping in the store. They're here to buy a lawnmower or whatever. We let them know that they can step up and get their vaccine immediately.

AUBREY: There's also a new 1-800 hotline number that the Biden administration has launched. You can call this from any phone to get help finding a vaccination. It's an assistance line. You know, this is another initiative to overcome the digital divide or any, you know, technology barriers to vaccination.

KWONG: That's great. So finding a vaccination, though, is one thing, and making them widespread is another. So, Allison, I'm curious. Looking into the fall, will COVID vaccines be required for kids to go to school? I mean, I know a lot of other vaccinations are, right?

AUBREY: Well, lots of colleges and universities have already announced that COVID vaccination will be mandatory for the fall term, with some exemptions. As for kindergarten to 12th grade, that will not likely happen right away. This is a state-by-state decision. Here's Dr. David Rubin. He's director of PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

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DAVID RUBIN: You know, on the K-12 level, I think less likely. I think, you know, we're still waiting on safety data to accrue after - you know, the kids have really just started.

AUBREY: And what he means here, Emily, about waiting for safety data is that the FDA requires vaccine-makers to provide a full six months of safety data before granting full approval or before they'll look at a request for full approval. So Pfizer is the first vaccine-maker in the U.S. that's set to request full FDA approval. The company announced that it has started its application. This would be for 16-year-olds and up to start with.

KWONG: OK. If this full approval is granted by the FDA, what is the significance of that? It seems like a lot of people are already vaccinated, so will it even make a big difference?

AUBREY: Well, it means that vaccine-makers can market the vaccine directly to consumers. Also, full approval could pave the way for mandatory requirements. For instance, many hospitals and health care institutions require employees to get the flu shot every year. We could see this for COVID vaccinations in other workplaces or in the military or in more schools.

KWONG: Got you. Got you. There's so much optimism now in the U.S. with cases dropping and more people getting vaccinated. What is the outlook, Allison, for the next few months?

AUBREY: You know, the most recent models are very encouraging for the U.S.

KWONG: Yeah.

AUBREY: CDC Director Walensky has said if vaccinations keep pace, there's reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring. Right now, we have about 40,000 new cases per day. That compares to 70,000 a month ago. Hospitalizations have declined, and deaths have fallen to about 700 per day.

Now, over the weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked if it's time to relax or drop indoor masking mandates. His answer?

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ANTHONY FAUCI: We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated. As you get more people vaccinated, the number of cases per day will absolutely go down. We're averaging about 43,000 a day. We've got to get it much, much lower than that.

AUBREY: So it's a bit of a confusing message there. On one hand, he's saying, yes, we need to liberalize these restrictions. But on the other hand, what he's really saying is, hang tight. I mean, as cases go down and vaccinations increase, the guidelines will relax. This isn't forever. But he certainly was not committing to a certain timeline. And Dr. Fauci also suggested that going forward, masking may become seasonal, say, during flu season, say, December through February, to help people fend off all respiratory viruses.

KWONG: That's interesting. OK. Well, big-picture, this is overall good news for the U.S., but in other parts of the globe, the virus is still circulating widely. I mean, cases are still rising in Brazil and in India.

AUBREY: Yeah. I mean, and as we've learned, this virus does not know borders, so the battle against this virus continues. And just as the flu did not disappear after the flu pandemic 100 years ago, many scientists say the coronavirus will become endemic, meaning that it may continue to circulate in pockets around the globe for many years.

KWONG: Well, thank you for this update. Allison Aubrey, I appreciate you joining us today with the latest.

AUBREY: Thanks. It's great to be here.

KWONG: This episode was edited by Jane Greenhalgh and Gisele Grayson, produced by Thomas Lu and fact-checked by Berly McCoy. I'm Emily Kwong, and you're listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science podcast from NPR.

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