RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
There have been so many missed birthday parties, book clubs, team sports, just hanging out with friends. That is all now set to change for kids from ages 12 to 15. The Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for that age group. NPR health reporter Pien Huang is here to talk about it. Hi, Pien.
PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: Is this the same shot adults have been getting?
HUANG: Yes, it's the same shot that - it's the same Pfizer vaccine that adults have been getting. It's the same two doses given three weeks apart. And to give you some background, the FDA has spent the past month reviewing data that Pfizer submitted about the effects of their vaccine on 12- to 15-year-olds. Here's Dr. Peter Marks. He's the top FDA official.
PETER MARKS: No cases of COVID-19 occurred among the 1,005 adolescents who received the vaccine, compared to 16 cases in 978 placebo recipients, thus indicating the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in this trial.
HUANG: And the side effects were very similar to what other young adults have had - you know, painful arms, fevers, muscle aches. So the FDA determined that the benefits of getting the shot for kids definitely outweighs the risks. Tomorrow, the CDC's vaccine advisory committee meets to review the data and to make recommendations for use. They're expected to agree with the FDA, so it's likely that many kids in this age group could start getting vaccinated later this week.
MARTIN: So Pien, we know that when kids in this age group have gotten COVID, on the whole, they've gotten mild cases. Can you explain why these children should still get vaccinated?
HUANG: It's true. I mean, most kids who get COVID, you know, either have a very mild case or sometimes don't even have any symptoms at all. But Dr. Megan Freeman, a researcher at University of Pittsburgh, says that's not always true.
MEGAN FREEMAN: In general, we know that kids are less likely to die from COVID than, say, their 80-year-old grandparents. But that doesn't mean that there's zero risk. So we know that teenagers can get things like long COVID, and that's something that you would want to avoid. Student athletes can have long-lasting effects on their heart.
HUANG: And those are things that getting vaccinated can help prevent. And it can also help reduce the chances of adolescents passing the virus on to others. By opening it up to this age group, the U.S. is making the vaccine available to 17 million more people, which means that 87% of the total U.S. population is now eligible to get a vaccine. So the more people who get vaccinated, the more routes of transmission get cut off for the virus.
MARTIN: Do we know what kind of demand is out there for this? I mean, are parents going to approve this for their kids?
HUANG: Well, some kids are surely going to be very excited to get it. Patricia Stinchfield, a nurse practitioner at Children's Minnesota, says that one of the big appeals for this age group is liberation.
PATRICIA STINCHFIELD: What this vaccine is going to do is allow them to get freedom to go back and sing in that choir without a mask on, and they can go to their sleepover camp with all their other vaccinated friends and not worry about getting sick or play in their sports team.
HUANG: There is some hesitation among parents. A SurveyMonkey poll found that just 43% of parents are ready to get their kids in this age group vaccinated. Another third are on the fence. Another third say no, they won't. So the hope is that, you know, as teens and preteens in this age group start getting vaccinated, more parents will come around to it. And we've already seen some colleges requiring vaccinations to come back to campus, so there's also the possibility that high schools and middle schools might follow suit.
MARTIN: All right. NPR health reporter Pien Huang, thank you so much.
HUANG: Thanks for having me.
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