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Pfizer aims to offer COVID vaccine to children in time for 2021 school year, if authorized

Last week Pfizer reported in trials its COVID-19 vaccine was 100 percent effective amongst children 12 to 15-years-old.

ATLANTA — In the coming weeks or months, a COVID-19 vaccine could be authorized for use amongst children 12 to 15-years-old.

On Friday, pharmaceutical company Pfizer submitted a request to the FDA "to expand emergency use of our COVID-19 vaccine to adolescents 12 to 15 years of age."

The request came one week after the company claimed its vaccine was 100 percent effective based on vaccine trials involving children from that age group.

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.

Currently, the vaccine from Pfizer is only available in the United States for use in anyone 16-years-old and older. 

"This is a very, very positive move for the country to get us to herd immunity fairly quickly," said Dr. Cecil Bennett, medical director of Newnan Family Medicine Associates

Medical experts have predicted somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of the population will need to be vaccinated to create a herd immunity against the virus. 

"Children comprise a pretty big percentage of the U.S. population," said Bennett. "We can't get to herd immunity without them. Even if you take into account the never vaccine folks or those who are reluctant for whatever other reason, we will need children to get to 70, 80 percent."

The primary concern Bennett hears from patients with children is about how they safely get their children back into a school building to learn.

"They know having them vaccinated will allow that to happen," he said. "But it also allows parents to go back to work and if parents can go back to work that means the economy can go back to normal."

In a tweet Friday, Pfizer suggested vaccinations amongst children could start in time for schools opening in the fall if the FDA authorizes the requested expansion of the company's vaccine. 

11Alive contacted Gov. Brian Kemp's office and asked what plans the state has prepared for vaccinating children in Georgia but didn't receive a response. 

Nancy Nydam, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Public Health e-mailed 11Alive the following statement: 

"As safe and effective vaccines become available for children aged 12-15 years, it is as important for this age group to be vaccinated as it is for older individuals. Children can develop COVID-19, and for children with underlying health conditions, it may cause serious illness. A complication of COVID in children is MIS-C, and which may lead to life-threatening problems with the heart and other organs.  Vaccination along with other preventive measures is our best protection against COVID-19, and is critical to establishing herd immunity and helping decrease emerging variants." 

While the virus can lead to serious health issues for children, GaDPH data shows deaths are rare. As of Friday, only seven children under 15 have died from the virus in Georgia during the ongoing pandemic, out of more than 16,000 deaths statewide. 

"The risk evaluation process is the same," said Dr. Grace Gowda of UGA's College of Pharmacy when asked what happens next for Pfizer's request. 

Late last year, Pfizer submitted a request to the FDA to have its vaccine issued an emergency use authorization allowing for use of the drug in anyone 16 and older. 

Gowda described how that process led to several public meetings where the results of vaccine trials in that age group were reviewed and discussed before the federal government eventually granted the authorization. Now she expects a similar process to play out. 

If authorized for use in children 12 to 15-years-old, she predicts side effects or any reaction to the drug will be similar as children in that age range have an immune system similar to that of an adult. 

"It will be very close to what we saw in adults such as injection site reaction, maybe a mild body ache or some fever," she said.