The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the 12- to 15-year-old demographic by the Food and Drug Administration on Monday, according to a press release from the agency.
Pfizer submitted its vaccine data independently to the FDA and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. The FDA authorized the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds Monday, while the ACIP— which is a committee within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has a meeting to review and release its analysis on Wednesday.
After the expected ACIP approval, the CDC will likely sign off on the Pfizer vaccine for use in kids between the ages of 12 and 15.
Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner at the FDA, said that after a thorough and “rigorous” review of data, the Pfizer vaccine was granted approval.
“Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from COVID-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” she said in the press release.
During a press briefing on Monday, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said vaccine distribution for 12- to 15-year-olds is expected to begin on Wednesday afternoon.
“We are ecstatic,” Zink said. “People in the hospital continue to be a younger and younger cohort … but vaccines are the game changer.”
State Epidemiologist Joe McLaughlin said during Monday’s press briefing that people ages 10 through 39 are currently leading COVID case counts. He said the team is eager to start vaccinating younger kids.
“This is really an important step to protect our children from COVID-19,” McLaughlin said.
Alaska Immunization Program Manager Matthew Bobo said on Monday that there are around 40,000 kids in the state between the ages of 12 and 15 who are expected to gain vaccination eligibility this week.
Zink said she hopes guardians make vaccine appointments for their children starting on Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of ACIP and CDC approval. Guardians will need to sign a consent form, but may not necessarily have to be present at the time of vaccination.
As of Monday, 48.1% of Alaskans 16 and older were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while another 54.7% had received at least one dose, according to information from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Those between the ages of 60 and 69 are in the age group of the highest number of vaccinated people.
In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 41.5% of Alaskans 16 and up are fully vaccinated, and 45.9% have received at least one dose. Almost 68% of peninsula seniors were fully inoculated as of Monday. In the borough, vaccination rates have increased by 3.7% among fully inoculated people over 16 in the past week. The state’s “Sleeves Up for Summer” campaign aims to increase vaccination by 25% in each census region by June 1.
In a briefing with school district officials on Monday, Zink said she’s campaigning to get as many kids vaccinated before the summer and next fall’s school year. At this time, she said, the schools will not be able to require that their students get vaccinated.
“KPBSD will be sharing information with families about local vaccination clinics that will offer the Pfizer vaccine to all students aged 12 and older,” Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said in a statement. “If anyone has questions, kindly contact your local school nurse, public health nurse, or health care provider.”
Dr. Coleman Cutchins with the DHSS said during Monday’s press briefing that both Pfizer and Moderna are recruiting more participants for their clinical trials in children from six months old to 11. He said Pfizer will likely get authorized to use its vaccine in kids 2 to 11 years old in September.
The DHSS team is currently working on updating its website and vaccination appointment portal to reflect the eligibility changes to the Pfizer vaccine.
The DHSS announced 232 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, bringing the statewide total to 66,350. Alaska remains at high-alert level, with 15.14 cases per 100,000 people, which is down from 19.21 last Monday.
Cases on the peninsula also dropped from 11 last week to seven on Monday. Affected peninsula communities include Soldotna with three, Kenai with two and one in both Homer and Seward.
Alaska also reported 72 new cases in Anchorage, 39 in Wasilla, 30 in Fairbanks, 16 in Ketchikan, 14 in Palmer, 13 in North Pole, 10 in Juneau, six in Eagle River, three both in Chugiak and Sitka, two each in Girdwood, Houston and Kodiak, and one each in the Aleutians East Borough, Healy, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Nome, the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area and Wrangell.
There were an additional seven nonresident cases.
The DHSS also reported two new hospitalizations and zero new deaths on Monday, bringing the totals to 1,510 and 343 respectively.
As of Monday, there were 43 total COVID-related hospitalizations in Alaska, a big drop from a week ago, with four patients on ventilators.
Over 360 COVID-19 vaccination appointments were available across multiple central peninsula clinics as of Monday, according to PrepMod, the online portal through which appointments can be scheduled. PrepMod can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov.
These include the Soldotna Professional Pharmacy at Soldotna Prep School, CES Kasilof and the Sterling Community Center, and the Kenai Public Health Center.
A map of vaccine providers can be found on DHSS’ COVID-19 vaccine website at covidvax.alaska.gov. Many providers are using the state’s program to schedule appointments, which can be accessed at myhealth.alaska.gov. Instructions on how to schedule an appointment through alternative entities can be found on the map by clicking the icon of the preferred provider. Appointments at Walmart can be scheduled at walmart.com/covidvaccine.
People who would like assistance with scheduling a vaccination appointment can call the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management call center. The center operates Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The central peninsula call center can be reached at 907-262-4636. The Homer call center can be reached at 907-235-4636. The Seward call center can be reached at 907-224-4636.
The City of Kenai is offering transportation to and from vaccine clinics located in Kenai in partnership with CARTS and Alaska Cab. Rides will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis until the budgeted funds run out. In order to participate in the program, people must be going from an address located in Kenai to a clinic in Kenai and will need to provide proof of vaccination. To schedule a ride, Alaska Cab can be reached at 907-283-6000 and CARTS can be reached at 907-262-8900.
COVID-19 testing locations on the Kenai Peninsula
On the central peninsula, testing is available at Capstone Family Clinic, K-Beach Medical, Soldotna Professional Pharmacy, Central Peninsula Urgent Care, Peninsula Community Health Services, Urgent Care of Soldotna, Dena’ina Health Clinic, the Kenai Public Health Center and Odyssey Family Practice.
Call Kenai Public Health at 907-335-3400 for information on testing criteria for each location.
In Homer, testing is available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at the lower level of South Peninsula Hospital as well as through SVT Health & Wellness clinics in Homer, Seldovia and Anchor Point. Call ahead at the hospital at 907-235-0235 and at the SVT clinics at 907-226-2228.
In Ninilchik, NTC Community Clinic is providing testing on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. To make an appointment to be tested at the NTC Community Clinic, call 907-567-3970.
In Seward, testing is available at Providence Seward, Seward Community Health Center, Glacier Family Medicine and North Star Health Clinic.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that the ACIP is a committee within the CDC.
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.