California Prepares To Vaccinate 12 To 15 Year Olds Starting Thursday; Officials Address Parental Consent, School Vaccination Issues

Covid-19 vaccine
A vial of Covid-19 vaccine U.S. Secretary of Defense

With a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee expected to approve the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for kids aged 12-15 on Wednesday, state and local officials are preparing for the expansion.

California’s MyTurn web site will begin accepting vaccination appointments for 12-15 year olds on Thursday morning, according to State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan. Pan said officials are working to help providers and networks understand how to administer the vaccine to kids under 16, working with local health departments and schools to optimize opportunities for vaccination and also “working to purchase ultra-cold freezers for those that need them,” given that the Pfizer vaccine — the only one approved for kids under 16 — needs such storage.

Pan also said the state is working on communicating messages of vaccine safety and availability through “trusted messengers.” “‘Micro-influencers,’ we’re calling them,” she said.

California Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly said that 30% of 16 and 17 year olds have gotten vaccinated in California, indicating a measure of vaccine acceptance among teens. But those teens will still need parental consent to get vaccinated.

“Overall we still require young people to get consent,” said Dr. Ghaly. “In this case with Covid-19 we’ve tried to make that consent very simple.”

While there are many vaccines now mandated for those attending public schools in the state, the HHS director said that would not be the case with the Covid doses “since they’re still under emergency use authorization, not full FDA approval.”

Los Angeles County health officials are also gearing up.

“The most powerful tool to maintain our recovery progress is the vaccine and the most important work in front of us is to make it easier for residents to get vaccinated,” said L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer. She said, like the state, the county is working to partner with personal health care providers and schools to make the vaccine more easily available to teens.

“The strategy right now is to pop up wherever people are already gathering,” said Ferrer. Vaccines are now being offered without appointments at all county- and city-run vaccination sites, but authorities are emphasizing mobile clinics that reach into neighborhoods and populations with low rates of inoculations.

Los Angeles Public health dispatched “185 mobile teams out this week,” reported Ferrer. “We think that’s a very effective strategy, but then you have to take that strategy out to scale.”

Ferrer said Monday if the county can maintain its pace of administering about 400,000 doses per week, “herd immunity” could be achieved by mid- to late- July. Health officials are estimating that 80% of county residents will need to get vaccinated to reach that point. A previous estimate from L.A. officials had estimated so-called “community immunity” by the end of June. But demand for the vaccine has tailed off — both in the county and statewide — in recent weeks.

When looking at the numbers by age, L.A.’s older residents — who have been eligible for shots much longer — have the best rates, with 86% of residents aged 65-79 receiving at least one shot, and 73% of those aged 80 and up.

But among the youngest eligible residents, those aged 16 and 17, the rate is just 34%, along with 45% of residents aged 18-29, 54% of those 30-49 and 65% of residents 50-64.

The county established a web portal Monday that allows people to arrange for a mobile vaccine team to visit specific work sites.

On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the Pfizer vaccine on residents aged 12 to 15. The move still needs to be approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but that is anticipated to occur Wednesday morning. Ferrer estimated there are about 500,000 people in L.A. County in that age group.

Overall, as of Friday, nearly 8.5 million doses of vaccine have been administered in the county — more than 5.1 million first doses and more than 3.3 million second doses.

California’s numbers on Tuesday for daily Covid cases, deaths, hospitalizations and test positivity rate were the lowest they have been in more than a year.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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