Vaccinations for ages 12-15 possible by midweek

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 11, 2021 10:44 AM CT | Published: May 10, 2021 4:00 AM CT

By Wednesday, May 12, the Pfizer vaccine could be authorized for use in children ages 12-15, setting up PR campaigns in places like Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital where doctors are already worried demand may be underwhelming.

“I’m a little bit concerned because we have seen so much hesitancy in the young adult community already,” said Dr. Nick Hysmith, medical director of infection prevention at Le Bonheur.

“I think that is just going to continue progress down,” he said.

About one in five people in the 16-25 range in Shelby County has been vaccinated. That, Hysmith says, leaves the gate wide open for a wave of infection in young people, including children.

Early last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 22% of the new COVID-19 cases in the nation were among children, up from around 3% a year ago.

Experts point to the high rate of vaccination in other groups. But other factors are at play too, including increases in the number of more contagious variants and loosening restrictions on school activities.

“Assuming the data the FDA are reviewing is as strong as we expect, we are all advising those this age to get the vaccine as soon as they can,” said Dr. Chris Hanson at Laurelwood Pediatrics.

The best way we have to get schools looking more like they did pre-pandemic is to have a large portion of school-aged children vaccinated.

Dr. Chris Hanson
Laurelwood Pediatrics

“The best way we have to get schools looking more like they did pre-pandemic is to have a large portion of school-aged children vaccinated.”

The FDA advisory committee hearing evidence about the safety and effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine meets Wednesday.

If it gives its stamp of approval the same day, as it has with other age groups, the City of Memphis is prepared to begin vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds possibly on Wednesday but certainly by Thursday.

“It’s gone through the same rigor it would have if we weren’t under this emergency-use authorization,” Hysmith said. “Is anything different with the age group than with adults? The answer is no.

“You’ll feel a little puny after the second dose while your immune system is ramping up.

“Long-term, people want to know is this something we are going to be doing every year?” Hysmith said. “What I’ve been telling them is that we don’t exactly know the answer to that. We think there will probably be a booster or two in the future, but this doesn’t seem to be something where we are going to have yearly shots like influenza.”

The city’s goal is to add 80,000 more people to the vaccination rolls in the next four to six weeks. The 12-15 age group represents a chance to get 50,000.

If it can, about 80% of the Shelby County population will have immunity to the disease, either through natural infection or from the vaccine.

Vaccination intentions

There is no denying the pace of vaccination has dropped significantly. In the last seven days, the city has administered 12,126 doses in its six drive-thru locations, down by more than half of the 30,000 it delivered in early April.

Among parents the Kaiser Family Foundation polled on vaccine intention in late April, three in 10 said they would get their children of that age vaccinated right away; 26% intended to wait to see how the process went.

The figures generally reflect the eagerness in which those parents themselves sought to be vaccinated.

City plans ‘get out the vote’ type vaccine campaign

Another 18% said they will get their child vaccinated if school requires it, and 23% said they definitely won’t get their child vaccinated.

City revs up vaccination effort with chance to win Camaro

In Shelby County, 229,153 people are fully vaccinated and another 91,753 are in the process, according to the Shelby County Health Department, which means that just under 30% have received at least one dose.

Experts predict parents who believe in the vaccine will follow through with their children.

“I think it will be a similar picture to what we saw in adults,” said local infectious disease expert Dr. Stephen Threlkeld. He breaks the issue of adolescent vaccination into societal benefit and individual benefit.

“There is no question that the society benefit is enormous; there are a lot of kids out there,” Threlkeld said, noting that getting them vaccinated moves the community toward herd immunity.

The harder part, he said, is convincing parents of the personal benefit because children have not suffered the rate of severe disease as older segments have.

We have had plenty of 12-year-olds in the hospital, even in the ICU, with multi-system inflammatory syndrome and a few even with COVID pneumonia.

Dr. Stephen Threlkeld
Infectious disease expert

“But we have had plenty of 12-year-olds in the hospital, even in the ICU, with multi-system inflammatory syndrome and a few even with COVID pneumonia,” Threlkeld said.

Based on the clinical trial data, he says, “it is still much safer in that age group to get the vaccine than not to get the vaccine. It’s just not as great a difference as you would see in someone who is 86 years old.”

<strong>Clint Pearson</strong>

Clint Pearson

Clint Pearson, a Collierville father, has been vaccinated but feels little motivation at this point to get his 14-year-old son vaccinated.

“I do trust the science,” he said. 

“If we go in a few months for his checkup and the doctor says, ‘Hey, we have this; do you want it?’ I would consider it. I just don’t feel the urgency to do it now,” Pearson said.

Part of the reason is that COVID transmission in his son’s school, based on the number of calls from the school, is down to nearly nothing.

“I can’t even remember the last one I got,” Pearson said.

“It makes me wonder, even if he is eligible, if there is really a need. There really has been very little transmission at all.”

Herd immunity ‘complicated’ but up to 66% of locals have COVID antibodies

Dana Maury and her husband, Stephen, live in East Memphis. They are fully vaccinated and want the same coverage for their girls, 13 and 15.

“I love the idea of, before summer starting, getting the girls fully vaccinated and feeling better about them going to summer camps and back to school this fall,” Dana Maury said.

“I’ll be among the first in line.”

Tricia Dewey’s immediate family members have been vaccinated except her son, John, 12. To a point, Dewey, a freelance writer, is letting him make up his own mind.

<strong>Tricia Dewey</strong>

Tricia Dewey

“If he were reading lots of studies that were based in fact and he found some areas where I would also say this is legitimate for you to wonder about, I would be willing to look at that,” she said.

From her reading, Dewey finds the clinical test data and the data on safety for 12-year-olds looks strong.

“With four out of five of us being vaccinated, and thinking of summer, John would be adding to our family protection pod.”

But Brittany Diaz, a survivor advocate at the nonprofit Thistle & Bee, sees it differently. She has been vaccinated but is anxious about getting it for her daughter, 14.

“I am nervous about it. I’m not sure. If they tell me I have to in order for her to go to school, then I’ll do it, but I really don’t want to,” Diaz said.

So far, Shelby County Schools and other local school systems, including college campuses, have not required coronavirus vaccination for fall.

That is all the more reason to get children vaccinated, Hysmith says.

“That way we don’t have this group that is an untapped reservoir the virus can go to,” he said.

“If we have it running wild in these kids and in these schools, we are going to see more of these variants pop up, I am afraid.”

But beyond that, he is struck by the simplicity of its molecular design.

“It’s not attached to a protein like we do with vaccines for tetanus,” Hysmith said. “This is very straightforward and simple. I believe it is safer than any vaccine we’ve ever had before.”


Dr. Nick Hysmith Dr. Stephen Threlkeld Tricia Dewey Brittany Viaz Dana Maury Clint Pearson adolescent vaccination
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers business news and features for The Daily Memphian.