Pfizer announced Wednesday its COVID-19 vaccine is 100% effective in kids ages 12 to 15.
That’s according to results from the pharmaceutical’s latest study, a report that local health officials say is a reassuring development in the fight for nationwide immunity.
The Pfizer vaccine, which was created in partnership with German drugmaker BioNTech, was found to produce “robust” antibody responses in a clinical trial of more than 2,200 American youths aged 12 to 15 that began back in October 2020.
The study detected 18 COVID-19 infections among the placebo group, while no one in the vaccinated group contracted the virus. These results translate to 100% efficacy and even exceed results recorded in a previous study of 16 to 25-year-olds, Pfizer said in a news release.
Pfizer and BioNTech said they are sending data to the FDA for review, hoping the vaccine receives emergency clearance for use among people ages 12 to 15 as soon as possible. Pfizer is hopeful it can inoculate this sector of the population by the end of the summer, providing immunity for adolescents by the start of the fall school term.
Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, an infectious disease specialist at Cottage Health, called the report “reassuring” and noted that it is an important step in achieving herd immunity in Santa Barbara County.
Thus far, the county’s vaccine effort has targeted adults, but Dr. Fitzgibbons said vaccinating adolescents will be an important step in amping up population protection moving forward.
“Whenever we start to talk about herd immunity, I think the elephant in the room is providing protection to children,” Dr. Fitzgibbons told the News-Press. “Just thinking of the huge proportion of our population that is under 18 or even under the age of 16 is an important part of our herd immunity conversation.”
The specifics of how many adults must get vaccinated to reach herd immunity has been a topic of debate among health officials, but Dr. Fitzgibbons said it is likely somewhere between 70 to 85% of the population.
As of Wednesday, 14.5% of Santa Barbara County’s population has been vaccinated, according to Dr. Fitzgibbons.
With the infrastructure for vaccine distribution already in place, Dr. Fitzgibbons said she is hopeful that the vaccine rollout among adolescents can be a simple transition in the coming months.
“For Santa Barbara County, the great news is we currently have very large vaccine efforts under way, and I think that over these next few months we are in an excellent position to pivot some of these efforts that have focused fully on adults (and) modify the process to provide vaccines to very large groups of adolescents,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, said having the vaccine available to adolescents and teens would make the school year “much safer” for kids in the fall by reducing the instances of COVID-19.
Throughout this week, Santa Barbara County has seen a plateau in cases, which Dr. Ansorg said will restrict the county from moving into the orange tier alongside Los Angeles and Ventura counties in the coming days.
The current case rate in Santa Barbara County stands at 5.4 cases per 100,000. To qualify for the orange tier, the case rate must drop below four per 100,000. Yet, Dr. Ansorg is hopeful that once the state reaches 4 million doses allocated among the most vulnerable, the tier system will shift and the county could qualify for orange within the next two weeks.
“My prediction is that come early next week, we will qualify for the orange (tier) but then we have to remain in it for another week,” Dr. Ansorg told the News-Press. “I anticipate that to come April 13, we will officially move into the orange tier, providing our case rate doesn’t go up above six (per 100,000) again. That’s what we are counting on.”
Pfizer also announced Wednesday that it is one week into a global study that is testing the safety and tolerability of their vaccines with children six months and older. The company is splitting children up into three vaccine groups based on age, which includes a cohort of 5 to 11-year-olds, 2 to 5-year-olds and six months to 2-year-olds.
Children involved in the study between the ages of 5 and 11 received their first dose of the vaccine last week, and the second cohort of children between the ages of 2 to 5 years will receive their first dose next week.
Both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccines have played a prominent part in the vaccine rollout among adults nationwide, are also in the midst of their own vaccine trials that are testing the effectiveness of vaccines in adolescents and children. Moderna began trials among children ages 12 and under in mid-March, and Johnson & Johnson officials say they are aiming to start vaccine efficacy trials on infants and babies.
To those who may feel skeptical about getting their children vaccinated, Dr. Fitzgibbons said she is “sympathetic” to those concerns, but pointed to data that proves the safety of the vaccine among groups such as vulnerable adults and pregnant women.
“I think the good news really at this point is that the safety information that we’ve received for every one of these groups of concern has been very very reassuring,” Dr. Fitzgibbons said.
She’s encouraging every parent with adolescents to follow the latest updates on vaccine trials among children and teens.