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Older teenagers now eligible for vaccines in St. Louis area

Older teenagers now eligible for vaccines in St. Louis area

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Long term mass vaccination site opens downtown

Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Freers fills a syringe with vaccine during a mass vaccination event on the concourse of The Dome at America's Center in St. Louis on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is helping organize the eight week event along with the Department of Defense. The event is geared towards getting the vaccine to people who want it but haven't been able to get it according to FEMA external affairs officer John Mills. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

Upper-level high school students can now get the COVID-19 vaccine just in time for prom and graduation.

Missouri’s eligibility rules open vaccines to all residents 16 and older starting Friday, with Illinois opening up on Monday. One of the available vaccines, from Pfizer, is authorized for use starting at age 16.

“The vaccines are really our way out, but we also have to be cautious in this transitional phase where not everyone is vaccinated,” said Dr. Brad Ornstein, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Mercy.

Last month, Pfizer announced that its vaccine was safe and effective in clinical trial participants as young as 12. If the regulatory process for teens moves at a similar pace as for adults, vaccinations for all teenagers could be available before the first day of school in August.

Pfizer, along with Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have also launched vaccine trials for younger children starting with 11-year-olds and moving down to infants.

But approval for children is not expected until 2022, creating situations in which only half of the family members will be vaccinated heading into summer vacations.

“Obviously there’s a lot of desire to get out of our sort of hermetic state that we’ve been in for a while but, the younger kids aren’t going to be vaccinated, and you can see some data coming out of the upper Midwest, Michigan and Minnesota, that’s a little concerning for increasing rates of infection in the younger age groups,” Ornstein said.

Experts say it will be difficult for the country to reach herd immunity without vaccinating significant numbers of children and teenagers, who make up 24% of the population.

Still, visiting vaccinated grandparents or spending time at the beach this summer can be done relatively safely, Ornstein said.

“As long as the kids are feeling fine, that’s not an unsafe thing to do,” he said. “My family is planning on doing things like that.”

In-person school is also generally considered safe for children, even when unvaccinated, as long as safety measures like masks and distancing are practiced.

Children typically experience milder symptoms of COVID-19 compared to adults, although they are more prone to developing a rare but serious inflammatory syndrome. Kids make up about 13% of the total COVID-19 infections, and between 1% and 3% of hospitalizations, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

About 270 of the more than 549,000 deaths caused by COVID-19 in the U.S. have been in people younger than 18.

Vaccine hesitancy, particularly among parents, will be a challenge in the next year as more children become eligible, doctors said.

Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University, said it is valid to have concerns about the vaccine because of historical mistreatment and abuse of Black people in medical research.

“They should make the decision that is best for them and their families using the best available information … that should be from trusted messengers, people like myself who have dedicated their careers to this work,” she said in a video for the Hazelwood School District’s Help Hazelwood Get Healthy public health campaign.

With the expanded vaccine rollout, high schools have started to make plans to vaccinate their juniors and seniors.

Students at Okawville High School, about 40 minutes east of St. Louis, will receive Pfizer vaccines at school starting this month through the Washington County Health Department. Parents need to accompany 16- and 17-year-olds for the shots.

St. Louis University received 6,000 vaccine doses this week to start vaccinating students when eligibility opens Friday.

While colleges in Missouri have yet to announce vaccine requirements for the fall, universities including Brown, Cornell, Notre Dame and Rutgers have said students must be fully vaccinated to enroll.

Nearly 80% of teachers and school staff nationwide had received at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of March, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Related to this story

CHICAGO — More than 20% of Illinoisans are fully vaccinated and able to resume some normal activities, but people with young children may be waiting a little bit longer. None of the authorized vaccine providers in the U.S. are approved for use in people younger than 16, but Pfizer on Friday requested authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for adolescents between 12 and 15. The ...

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