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CDC Says 12 To 15 Year Olds Can Start Getting Vaccinated Right Away

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Vaccines for kids 12 to 15 can start now. An independent advisory committee to the CDC gave the green light yesterday. The CDC then accepted the recommendation, and that age group is now approved for the Pfizer vaccine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: A vaccine for kids between the ages of 12 and 15 are safe, effective, easy, fast and free. My hope is that parents will take advantage of the vaccine and get their kids vaccinated.

MARTIN: President Biden speaking there. He says his administration has reached out to pharmacies, pediatricians and Medicaid providers to get them ready. We're joined now by Dr. Jose Romero. He's a pediatrician and chair of that independent advisory committee, and he joins us from Little Rock, Ark., this morning. Thanks for being with us.

JOSE ROMERO: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: The CDC says that now kids 17 and younger make up nearly a fifth of COVID cases in the U.S. How much is this change - allowing this specific cohort of kids to get vaccinated, how much is that going to help control the pandemic?

ROMERO: It will add a significant number of individuals that hopefully, if accepted, will become immune to the vaccine and therefore decrease the risk of transmission because they won't serve as a reservoir for passing the vaccine on to another person. I shouldn't say reservoir but being another person infected and passing it on. So I think it is a big step forward in achieving large-scale immunity here in this country.

MARTIN: I heard you hesitate to use the word herd immunity.

ROMERO: Right. As you know, it appears that that goal has been modified. And what we're looking for now is achieving a certain amount of individuals that have received at least one dose. I think that that's reasonable at this point and that we need to move forward with reasonable expectations.

MARTIN: Your committee also decided it's OK to give regular vaccines like measles or HPV at the same time as the COVID vaccine rather than waiting two weeks between vaccines. Why make that change?

ROMERO: Well, because a lot of our - not just adolescents but children in particular are behind on their immunizations because of the the COVID pandemic. They weren't going to regular checkups and regular visits with their doctors. So to take advantage of a visit with a physician to administer all vaccines that are necessary at that time is highly advantageous so that an adolescent can receive HPV vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine, other vaccines that are scheduled around that time.

MARTIN: You are also secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health. Do you think state health departments should require kids to get the COVID vaccine to go to school the way they require other vaccines?

ROMERO: I think we need to see what happens as we go forward. You know, the requirement for a vaccine depends on the prevalence of the disease and the severity of disease. Now, if we can bring this under control with routine parental consent to give this vaccine and not mandate it, I think it's possible to do it that way. But we'll have to see how it goes forward.

MARTIN: In your state, there are people who are hesitant to get the vaccine, as there are in many states. But how do you think from where you sit as a state health official, how do you encourage people that this is safe for their kids?

ROMERO: Yes, it will take education. And we have programs getting ready and gearing up to do this, to have public messaging of this. Really, the most important people here are the pediatricians, the family practitioners, those individuals that have a relationship with the parent. The parents trust them. And a recommendation for the use of the vaccine goes a long way. We're going to get this into the pediatricians, family practitioners offices to administer. About half of our vaccines also are administered by our health department. So our health department is geared up to give this in every county in the state.

MARTIN: There were some criticisms, I understand, raised in the committee meeting yesterday that the study of adolescents was relatively small to determine whether or not they could get this Pfizer vaccine and that we really don't know about long-term side effects yet. How much does that concern you?

ROMERO: Yeah, I think they're critiques more than criticisms. I am not that concerned. Certainly, we know that the bridging studies indicate that these vaccines act very similarly or better than adult. I don't think that there's going to be a sudden untoward effect that's discovered. We're going to watch this very closely. As you know, this country has very, very good vaccine safety measures in place. The measures that have caught the allergic reactions and the clotting reactions in adults work very, very well.

MARTIN: Is Arkansas considering or has the state already implemented some kind of incentives? I mean, we've seen various states doing this. Mike DeWine in Ohio just announced he's going to give away millions of dollars in a lottery kind of situation to encourage people to get shots.

ROMERO: At this time, we haven't considered this as an option.

MARTIN: Dr. Jose Romero, we appreciate your time. He is the chair of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the CDC. He is also secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health. Thank you again.

ROMERO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.