Riverside official encourages shots for teens

Published 5:36 pm Tuesday, May 25, 2021

With children ages 12 and up now eligible to receive the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, hospitals and health departments have been preparing clinics and offering guidance for families.

Riverside Health System will vaccinate anyone at least 12 years old, whether or not they have been a patient at Riverside. Bon Secours Medical Group is only taking vaccine appointments for patients, while Sentara Healthcare has a website for people with a schedule of its upcoming vaccine clinics. People can also go to vaccines.gov or walk into a pharmacy or other location providing a vaccine.

Those under 18 receiving a vaccine will be getting Pfizer, as that is the only one that has received emergency approval to be used in that age group. Others 18 and older can receive Pfizer, Moderna or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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As of May 21, 223,216 people ages 12 to 19 have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, and 2,562 have received at least one dose in Western Tidewater, including 1,633 in Suffolk, 661 in Isle of Wight County, 131 in Southampton County, 87 in Franklin and 50 in Surry County.

In Western Tidewater, 1,216 people have been fully vaccinated, including 759 in Suffolk, 346 in Isle of Wight, 52 in Southampton, 39 in Franklin and 20 in Surry.

Cindy Williams, vice president and chief pharmacy officer for Riverside Health System, said the sooner the vaccination process can begin, the better, and it will be easier to coordinate second shots.

She said those younger than 18 receive the exact same dose, noting it was tested on ages 12 to 15, and though it was a smaller clinical trial, there was 100% vaccine efficacy against symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19.

“The efficacies that they showed in that group of 12- to 15-year-olds is actually better than was seen in the 16 and above (age group),” Williams said, “probably because, as much as anything, children or adolescents, they’re not going to have some of the same chronic comorbidities. You’re not going to see as high an incidence of diabetes, heart disease and other things.”

The Pfizer vaccine had already received the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization for ages 16 and up.

She noted children do not have to wait to get other needed vaccinations in addition to a COVID-19 vaccine, and they can be taken concurrently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices issued guidance saying there is no need to separate doses of different vaccines.

“The other fear they had, quite honestly, is that, childhood immunizations are behind schedule,” Williams said. “A lot of people have missed their due dates … for childhood immunizations because of COVID, and just not being able to get access to physician practices, whatever the barriers have been.

“They didn’t want to make that worse, and so when they updated the emergency use authorization, they removed for all age groups the need to separate the vaccines.”

Suffolk Public Schools is looking at this summer to schedule a vaccination clinic for students at one of its schools, and it is also urging anyone not up-to-date on other vaccinations to get what is required to attend school in person.

For those under 18 getting vaccinated, they need parental consent, whether they receive it at a school-based clinic or at their doctor’s office. Riverside is asking parents to sign a written form for those not part of one of its practices, or electronic consent if they are. Williams said it encourages parents to be with their child during the vaccination.

The CDC’s advisory committee said a survey of parents showed 46% to 60% of parents who said they would have their children vaccinated, with reasons for hesitancy or not allowing their children to get vaccinated including a lack of trust of vaccine information, the vaccines being developed too quickly, whether or not it will be safe or lacking information about them.

But if a parent is unable to come, Williams said Riverside does not want that to become a barrier and will allow for an adult sibling to be with the child as long as there is a signed parental consent form. It wants parents to review the fact sheet about the vaccine and be comfortable with it.

But she cautioned that children can get COVID-19, and the disease does not discriminate by age, and that those getting it are younger as higher percentages of older people have been vaccinated. Children can also still transmit the disease. Williams said parents need to take those issues into consideration.

“I think the main thing is we want to make sure we’re getting vaccines in arms,” Williams said. “We want to make sure we’re offering them in a way that the parents and the student are comfortable.”