- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Wednesday for emergency use in children ages 12 to 15 and the U.S. should be right behind it, bolstering immunity to COVID-19 and making it easier for schools to reopen.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said he did not want to get ahead of the Food and Drug Administration but the decision should come “within several days.”

“I cannot imagine it’s going to be much longer than that,” Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s “Today Show.” “Now that we can vaccinate those kids, it’s going to make it much, much easier to get those kids back to school without the anxiety associated with whether or not there are going to be outbreaks at that level.”

A trial conducted in the U.S. found the shots were 100% effective in preventing infections in participants 12 to 15 years old. Canada is the first country to approve the Pfizer shots for the age group.

“After completing a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the department has determined that this vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 when used in children between 12 and 15 years of age,” Health Canada said Wednesday.

No COVID-19 vaccines are available to U.S. adolescents currently. The Pfizer version is approved for emergency use in people 16 and older, while other versions are available to Americans 18 and up.

Vaccinating children and teenagers is key because they can fuel transmission, especially in their social interactions, even if they don’t tend to get sick and die from COVID-19. Michigan, for instance, connected a recent surge to youth sports and the car rides, parties and sleepovers that accompany club and school activities.

Biden administration officials said if the FDA approves the vaccine for younger ages, the government would offer the shots immediately to pediatricians’ offices, which are accustomed to providing childhood vaccinations.

“We have the ability to move very, very quickly on a number of fronts,” said Biden coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt.

“We know kids want to go to camp this summer, we know parents want them to be safe,” he said, noting families would prefer to accomplish those things without masks. “Vaccinations are the best answer.”

Pfizer’s vaccine uses messenger-RNA technology that teaches the body to make an immune response to the virus. It was the first COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use in the U.S.

It got the go-ahead in December, kicking off a massive rollout that includes mRNA shots from Moderna and a single-shot version from Johnson & Johnson, which uses a different technology.

Pfizer recently told investors it plans to seek full approval of its vaccine for ages 16 to 85 this month, which would keep it on the market even as the pandemic crisis recedes. It also plans to seek emergency approval for use in ages 2 to 11 by September.

Vaccinating all age groups would help the U.S. get closer to the type of widespread immunity that makes new outbreaks far less likely.

Federal officials say the concept of “herd immunity” is elusive, so they are pushing to vaccinate as many Americans as possible instead of pinpointing a specific threshold.

However, President Biden did set a goal on Tuesday of getting one dose into 70% of U.S. adults by July 4, which he has pinpointed as a starting point for normalcy after the devastating pandemic.

Dr. Fauci said that level of vaccination should produce clear results.

“When you get to 70%, you are going to have a substantial impact on the number of cases per day, which will translate into a diminution in the number of hospitalizations and deaths,” he told NBC. “And you will see that what we can do in society, the kind of guidelines that are restrictive at a certain level, are going to be much more liberalized and people will be able to really approach getting back to some form of normality. It might actually be the herd immunity number or not.”

Federal officials say the next phase of the vaccination program must be more targeted, describing a pivot from mass-vaccination efforts to mobile clinics and a focus on rural areas.

The administration says it is trying to educate holdouts about the benefits of vaccination and how safe and effective the shots are, instead of browbeating them into rolling up their sleeves.

Mr. Slavitt said his entire family got vaccinated and it was “a major transition for our lives.”

“Even my son, who doesn’t really like needles, said this was not a big deal, it didn’t hurt,” he said. “So that’s a first.”

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