Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine protects younger teens

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Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12.

"We were eagerly anticipating this news and this is -- the numbers are really reassuring and exciting," said Smriti Khare, president of Children's Medical Group. 

The announcement Wednesday, March 31, marks a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before the next school year.

"If we really want to get rid of this circulating within communities, that group is really important, especially the interest in getting everybody back to school," said Dr. James Conway, professor of pediatrics and medical director of UW Health immunization programs.

Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic.

In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among those given dummy shots.

"To see that the COVID vaccine is looking to be 100-percent effective and we're finding that it's safe is really good news. Now it's not a complete trial, but it's good news," said Dr. Kevin Dahlman, medical director at Aurora Children's Health. 

Pfizer said the vaccine "was well tolerated, with side effects generally consistent with those observed in participants 16 to 25 years of ages."

"When these trials are complete, then we'll be able to examine the evidence to say 'yes, it is safe and it is effective.' Of course we need time to look at these trials and they're not done yet, but when that happens we can rely on that," said Dahlman. 

Pfizer says it plans to submit the data to the FDA for a requested amendment to the Emergency Use Authorization to expand use in those 12 to 15 as quickly as possible. 

"We are as a society and as a medical community, extraordinarily careful with kids, extraordinarily protective with kids, and the FDA is considered the gold standard globally, and so they are not going to let something pass through unless the efficacy and the benefit of it far, far outweighs any of the side effect concerns," said Conway. 

Doctors say this could not only help kids physically, but mentally as well. 

"So we are seeing a lot of data now globally, as well as in this country, of an increase in anxiety and depression, especially for adolescents. So this is more than just trying to get back to normalcy, it's also really impacting their mental health, so it's important to find a way to make them safer," said Khare. 

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