FDA Authorizes Pfizer COVID Vaccine for
Teens 12-15

Ralph Ellis

May 10, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to be given to children 12-15 years old.  

The much-expected decision increases the likelihood that schools in the United States will fully reopen in the fall — a goal of both the Biden and Trump administrations.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, MD, called the decision "a significant step" in "returning to a sense of normalcy."

"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 a statement. "Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations."

The Pfizer adolescent vaccine is not yet a done deal, though.

Next, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will decide on Wednesday whether to recommend use of the vaccine in this age group. After that, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, will decide whether to give the green light for the vaccine to be administered to that age group.

The FDA action on Monday amends the December 11 emergency use authorization that allowed the Pfizer vaccine to be given to people 16 and older. Pfizer was the first company to receive an EUA for its adult vaccine and is the first to receive authorization for its adolescent vaccine. Pfizer is conducting clinical trials on much younger children, too.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for people 18 and up. Moderna has also launched clinical trials in children.

Most health experts have said the US needs to vaccinate children before the COVID pandemic can truly be brought under control. The 12-to-15-year-old group represents 17 million people, about 5% of the population. Thus far, 58% of US adults have had at least one dose of a vaccine and 34.8% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.

American Academy of Pediatrics President Lee Savio Beers, MD, praised the agency's decision, calling it a "critically important step in bringing life-saving vaccines to children and adolescents. Our youngest generations have shouldered heavy burdens over the past year, and the vaccine is a hopeful sign that they will be able to begin to experience all the activities that are so important for their health and development."

Last week President Joe Biden announced a new strategy for expanding vaccinations in which vaccinating 12-to-15-year-olds was a key component. He said the administration was ready to ship the adolescent vaccine directly to pharmacies and pediatricians to speed up the vaccination rate.

In March, Anthony Fauci, MD, told a Senate committee, "We don't really know what that magical point of herd immunity is, but we do know that if we get the overwhelming population vaccinated, we're going to be in good shape. … We ultimately would like to get and have to get children into that mix." 

Pfizer submitted data to the FDA in late March showing its mRNA vaccine was 100% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in children ages 12 to 15 in clinical trials.

Though most children have milder symptoms when infected with the coronavirus, about 1.5 million cases in children 11-17 were reported to the CDC between March 1, 2020, and April 30 of this year, the FDA news release said.

Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, tweeted that "today brings very encouraging news for families and adolescents across the United States."


"While this is a meaningful step forward, we are still in a critical period of combating #COVID19 around the world. In the coming weeks, we hope to continue to receive authorizations from global regulators to support worldwide vaccination efforts," he said. 

"It's essential for children to be vaccinated against COVID-19. According to data compiled by the AAP and Children's Hospital Association, more than 3.8 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States since the start of the pandemic," said Savio Beers. "While fewer children than adults have suffered the most severe disease, this is not a benign disease in children. Thousands of children have been hospitalized, and hundreds have died. We will soon have a very safe, highly effective vaccine that can prevent so much suffering. I encourage parents to talk with their pediatrician about how to get the vaccine for their adolescents as soon as they are eligible."

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