By Dr. Erica Pan, California State Epidemiologist and Deputy Director of the Center for Infectious Diseases
California’s future is brighter now that protection from COVID-19 is within reach for even more of our loved ones. Adolescents aged 12 to 15 can join older teens in getting the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine – the same vaccine that has been safely administered to millions of California adults, including more than 30 percent of 16 – and 17-year-olds in just the first month of eligibility.
As a pediatric infectious disease specialist and a parent of two eligible adolescents, this was exciting news. My husband – who is also a pediatrician – and I immediately scheduled an appointment to get our teenagers’ first dose once available. The past year has been hard on all of us, but especially difficult for our teens who have had to put their lives on hold. Now that eligibility has expanded, we can confidently give our kids a shot at being kids again with the comfort of knowing they are protected from COVID-19.
I have spent my career treating and preventing infectious diseases in children as a pediatric infectious disease physician and a public health official. I understand the concerns that parents have when thinking about their children’s health and wellness. I am incredibly grateful that science and technology have brought us this gift of vaccines to protect us and end this pandemic in an unprecedented timeline. It is incredible to see how quickly we’ve vaccinated millions of people to increase our confidence in both the safety and effectiveness of these vaccines. While continuing to vaccinate more of our population is a critical step to getting back to our normal lives, this news likely brings up many questions.
We know our teens have questions, too – and that’s OK. It’s important for everyone to get the facts on vaccination. Here are the facts:
- Safety – As a physician and a mother, I want to reassure parents and guardians that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is proven to be safe and effective in youth aged 12 to 15. Clinical trials have proven the Pfizer vaccine can protect young people 12 years old and up from severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19. The technology used to make the vaccine has been developed over the past 20 years – it is not new. It does not change our DNA, nor does it contain the COVID-19 virus.
- Side Effects – The shot itself is nearly painless, and most teens who get vaccinated may only experience side effects such as a sore arm, fever, or fatigue. These are completely normal and are signs the body is building immunity to the virus. Individuals concerned about the vaccine’s potential impact on fertility can rest assured, there is no evidence that fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine, including COVID-19 vaccines. This is including all data reviewed in clinical trials or amongst the millions of women who have since received COVID-19 vaccines.
- Equity and Access – California is working closely with local health departments, community partners, school districts and others to provide vaccines equitably to underserved youth, including those who are experiencing homelessness or in foster care. Rural communities and those without access to transportation continue to be a priority for the state as it expands its network to include free rides, at-home services, mobile clinics and more.
COVID-19 vaccines are free to everyone, even if you’re undocumented or don’t have health insurance. Your immigration status will not be asked when you or your child is vaccinated, and information will not be shared with immigration agencies.
- Getting Back to Normalcy – Vaccines are how we can finally get back to normal. When more Californians become vaccinated, we can feel safer as restrictions are lifted and life begins to return to a sense of normalcy. When 12- to 15-year-olds are vaccinated, families can be safer as they venture out more, go on vacations and get back to doing the things they love.
Young people have been heroic throughout this pandemic. They have suffered stress and isolation. Now it is their turn to join grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, aunts and uncles, guardians and neighbors, teammates, and friends in getting vaccinated so that they can safely return to fully-in person schooling and hang out more often with friends.
- Book Appointments – Parents and guardians can learn more about the COVID-19 vaccines at VaccinateAll58.com and check vaccine availability and book appointments through My Turn or call California’s COVID-19 Hotline at 1-833-422-4255. You can also call your family doctor, local community health clinic or public health office for more information.
- Vax for the Win – The state recently launched an incentives campaign called “Vax For the Win” to motivate more eligible Californians 12 and up to get vaccinated against COVID-19 leading up to June 15, when the state fully reopens. The program is the biggest in the nation and totals more than $116 million in giveaways for vaccinated Californians. The program You Call The Shot gives $50 incentive cards – for things like groceries or to shop at your favorite small business – to the next two million Californians who begin and complete their vaccination against COVID-19. Vax for the Win also includes $16.5 million in cash prizes for all vaccinated Californians – “$50,000 Fridays” – with drawings on June 4 and June 11 – when there will be 15 winners each day for a total of 30 Californians getting $50,000. Then there’s the grand prize giveaway on June 15 when 10 lucky vaccinated Californians will each win $1.5 million. Learn more about “Vax for the Win” at covid19.ca.gov.