Alaska health officials: Kids 12 to 15 are on cusp of vaccine eligibility

An Alaska native teen with a black mask getting vaccinated
Mt. Edgecumbe High School Senior Bradley Westlock receives his second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on February 19, 2021. (Katherine Rose/KCAW)

As the current school year comes to a close, Alaska health officials anticipate kids ages 12 to 15 will become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine long before school starts again in the fall. 

“We fully expect kids (ages) 12 and up to get authorization any day,” said Coleman Cutchins, a pharmacist with Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, in a call with school personnel Monday. 

“Tomorrow wouldn’t surprise me. I think we’re more likely, within a month. I would be really shocked if (by) the end of May, we still didn’t have authorization yet for Pfizer in kids 12 and up.”

Pfizer requested the FDA approve expanding its authorization earlier this month after announcing results from its clinical trial showing the vaccine is 100% effective at preventing COVID-19 in this age group. 

RELATED: Kids can’t get vaccinated yet, but YKHC is getting ready by registering children ages 12 to 15 

Cutchins said it’s unclear when eligibility will expand to kids under 12 because not enough people have enrolled in trials for that age group yet. 

“What we will know is when they say, ‘Hey, we’ve completed enrollment,’ it’s about a two to four month time period from there, more like three to four months,” Cutchins said.

Officials are anticipating this timeline because of the announcement made by Pfizer in a news release, according to Dr. Liz Ohlsen, staff physician with Alaska’s Public Health Division.

Moderna, the other major vaccine provider in the United States, hasn’t made any announcements, but Cutchins expects Moderna will also expand its vaccine eligibility to kids under 16 soon, too. 

“What we do know is that both Pfizer and Moderna have completed their enrollment in kids 12 and up. What we also know is that Pfizer submitted to the FDA for their review. Moderna could have submitted to the FDA and just didn’t tell anybody,” Cutchins said. “What I fully expect though, is both of them should get Emergency Use Authorization approval very quickly.”

The Alaska health department is hosting a vaccine pop-up Q&A session for parents who want to know more about the vaccine for kids on Wednesday, April 28, at 6 p.m. 

Ohlsen said officials continue to encourage everyone 16 and older to get a vaccine, including the formerly paused Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Health officials lifted the pause on distribution of the vaccine Friday. Ohlsen said after a review by the CDC, the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the known risks. 

“This vaccine saves lives (and) it will save more lives, if we allow more people to get it rather than placing restrictions on it,” she said.

According to the state dashboard, 42.4% of Alaskans have been fully vaccinated. But the state’s vaccination rate is slowing down. Health officials see vaccinating children as a step toward achieving herd immunity. 

RELATED: With fewer Alaskans eager for COVID-19 vaccines, more doses are going to waste 

Ohlsen said as people look forward to end-of-the-school-year celebrations, it’s a good time to consider getting vaccinated in order to safely celebrate. 

“I think about folks graduating from high school, essentially, every graduate should be eligible for vaccination. Every adult who attends a graduation celebration is eligible for vaccination as well.”

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