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43% Of Adults Are Vaccinated Against COVID-19. Shot Coming For Kids

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There is reason to hope that the United States is heading toward a more normal summer. New cases of coronavirus continue to fall around the country. The CDC says 43% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated. And this week, the FDA is expected to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15. NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us as she does most Mondays. Hey there, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, so the FDA has been trying to determine if the Pfizer vaccine is safe for kids under 16. How is the testing going?

AUBREY: Sure. Scientists at the FDA have been reviewing the clinical trial data, which included more than 2,000 12- to 15-year-olds. It appears that it's all positive, Steve. Children in this age group develop lots of antibodies, have very mild side effects. I spoke to Patricia Stinchfield. She is a non-voting member of the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. This is the group that makes recommendations. She says, from what's been released so far, the vaccines appear to be very effective.

PATRICIA STINCHFIELD: In this age group, seems to be 100% effective. No child in the study - that 12- to 15-year-old adolescents - got COVID.

AUBREY: Now, some kids got fevers, though not many. Many had arm pain, just like adults. And Stinchfield says the benefits seem to far outweigh any risks.

INSKEEP: One-hundred percent effective in tests.

AUBREY: Yes.

INSKEEP: But are parents...

AUBREY: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...Ready to jump on giving this vaccine to kids?

AUBREY: You know, a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds only 3 in 10 parents of children in this age group say they will get their child vaccinated as soon as it's available. Many say they will wait a bit. Now, I spoke to Dr. Lee Beers - she is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics - about this. She says pediatricians will work hard to meet parents where they are, answer questions and try to reassure them.

LEE BEERS: We as pediatricians feel incredibly confident in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. We feel confident in the process that led to its development and are really incredibly encouraged.

AUBREY: In addition to being a pediatrician, she's also the mom of a 16-year-old who has already been vaccinated. And her 12-year-old, she says, is on the list to be notified for an appointment as soon as it's available.

INSKEEP: Well, I want to ask about a detail here that feels really important, Allison. When people think about their kids, they want to be super careful. If they're going to go get a shot, I'm sure that many people would like it to be from someone they know, from someone they trust, like a pediatrician. Can pediatricians vaccinate their kids right in their offices when this is available?

AUBREY: Yes. Some pediatricians will offer the shot right in their offices. Also, more than 15,000 pharmacies will be ready to vaccinate kids. I spoke to a pediatrician in Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Nicole Baldwin. She says her practice will offer the vaccine, as will some local high schools.

NICOLE BALDWIN: Several of our larger public high schools and even some of our private high schools are offering vaccine clinics. And I have patients in that 12- to 15-year-old age range that are already able to get scheduled, you know, pending the authorization, which we all think is probably coming. So that's really exciting.

AUBREY: And she says despite hesitancy among some parents, if you talk directly to teenagers, many are gung-ho because after a year or more of missing out on so many activities - I mean, think about it, Steve - this vaccine can bring liberation.

BALDWIN: My patients, for the most part, are chomping at the bit to get this vaccine. They cannot wait. They're very excited.

AUBREY: She says making it convenient to get the shots can really help, too.

INSKEEP: Is it likely that vaccines are going to be required for students?

AUBREY: You know, lots of colleges and universities have already announced that COVID vaccination will be mandatory for the fall term, with some exemptions granted. As for kindergarten to 12th grade, requirements or mandates will not likely happen right away. Now, this is a state-by-state decision, and keep in mind, the vaccine would have only emergency use authorization to begin. So here's Dr. David Rubin. He's director of PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

DAVID RUBIN: You know, on the K-12 level, I think less likely. I think, you know, we're still waiting on safety data to accrue after - you know, the kids have really just started.

AUBREY: And what he means here about waiting for safety data is that the FDA requires vaccine makers to provide six months of ongoing safety data before considering full approval, and they don't have that for younger kids, right? Now, Pfizer is the first vaccine maker in the U.S. that's set to request full FDA approval. The company announced that it has started this application. This is for the 16-year-old-and-up population.

INSKEEP: Allison, most of the news you've got for us on this Monday is pretty positive. But what does it mean that the number of daily vaccinations has been going down in recent days?

AUBREY: Well, it means that there's still hesitancy out there, Steve. I mean, there are lots of new efforts to go directly to people in their communities with mobile clinics just to make it easier. Also, Walmart now has walk-up vaccinations at thousands of its stores, including in many rural areas, where no appointment is necessary. I spoke to Joey Marshall (ph). He's a pharmacist at the Walmart in Smithville, Tenn.

JOEY MARSHALL: I actually put a table right in the front of the store as people walked in, and we're having some success at getting more people vaccinated. They're just shopping in the store. They're here to buy a lawn mower or whatever. We let them know that they can step up and get their vaccine immediately.

AUBREY: There's also a new 1-800 hotline, Steve, the Biden administration has launched. You can dial from any telephone to get assistance finding a vaccine. It's another initiative to overcome the digital divide, to make sure technology is not a barrier to vaccination.

INSKEEP: I'm just marveling over that kind of classic Walmart greeter - could now be selling (laughter)...

AUBREY: Right.

INSKEEP: ...Get you a shot. That's great.

AUBREY: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned something about full approval from the FDA of the Pfizer vaccine. What difference does it make if they get there?

AUBREY: Well, with full approval, vaccine makers could market the vaccine directly to consumers. Also, full approval could pave the way for more mandatory requirements. For instance, hospitals, health care institutions - many require employees to get the flu shot every year. We could see that for COVID vaccinations in workplaces or in the military or at more schools.

INSKEEP: OK. And so what does that mean, then, for our summer?

AUBREY: You know, the most recent models are very encouraging. The CDC director, Dr. Walensky, has said if vaccinations keep apace, there's reason to be quite hopeful for what the summer can bring. Over the weekend, Dr. Fauci was asked if it's time now to relax or drop indoor mask mandates. He said not quite yet. Hang tight. More people need to get vaccinated. Cases need to continue to go down.

ANTHONY FAUCI: We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated. As you get more people vaccinated, the number of cases per day will absolutely go down. We're averaging about 43,000 a day. We've got to get it much, much lower than that.

AUBREY: So he's basically saying hang tight. As cases go down and vaccinations go up, the guidelines will relax. And that's good news for the U.S. But in other parts of the globe, the virus is still circulating widely, including in Brazil and in India, where cases are still rising.

INSKEEP: Allison, thanks so much.

AUBREY: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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