The Food and Drug Administration is expected to give emergency use authorization to the Pfizer vaccine for use in children ages 12 to 15 some time this week.

That news is already giving hope to some local education leaders, who plan to encourage families to choose to get their children vaccinated before the start of next school year.

Heather Ousley, president of the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Education, and her two adolescent children appeared on CNN over the weekend to advocate for an uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine once children become eligible.

“I would be team ‘get-them-vaccinated’ from the very beginning,” Ousley said, sitting next to her son Sam, 13, and daughter Elliannah, 15.

Sam has a rare liver condition that Ousley says makes him more susceptible to a severe COVID-19 infection. As result, he’s spent this past year learning remotely at home.

“So I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opportunity [for the vaccine], and when the news broke last week, it was just an overwhelming sense of relief,” Ousley said. “We’re not to the end of the marathon yet, but we can see the finish line, and it’s really close.”

Vaccine hesitancy

The Pfizer vaccine is a two-dose mRNA vaccine that requires ultra-cold storage. It is currently used in people 16 and older.

Locally, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment has previously partnered with Children’s Mercy Hospital to host targeted vaccine clinics for Johnson County school districts in an attempt to reach eligible high school students ages 16 to 18.

SMSD Board of Education President Heather Ousley, left, with her son Sam, 13 (middle) and daughter Elliannah, 15, appearing Saturday on CNN, where Ousley spoke of Sam’s health condition that has forced him to learn remotely this school year. Image screenshot courtesy Mediaite.

But public opinion polls suggest vaccine hesitancy among parents could be a factor in vaccine uptake among children if more are made eligible by the FDA’s authorization.

Results from a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released last week show about 29% of parents said they would, like Ousley, get their children vaccinated “right away”. Another 32% said they would wait to see the vaccine’s impact before getting their child vaccinated.

Another 15% said they would get their child vaccinated if their school requires it, and 19% said they would not get their child vaccinated at all.

Ousley told CNN she has heard views from “across the spectrum” regarding vaccinations in the Shawnee Mission district.

She said she feels that the more people — including eligible children — get vaccinated, the more it will help convince people it’s the “right thing to do for our community.”

“The lower we can get the number of unvaccinated people, the more security all of those of us who have a family member that we worry about, the more security we’ll have,” said Heather. “We want to make sure all of our educators and all of our students have a safe transition back into buildings next year

Local vaccine trials for children under 12

Clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines’ use in children 12 and younger are also ongoing, including at Children’s Mercy Hospitals in Kansas City, Mo.

These trials should help gather data about the Pfizer vaccine and its immune response in children, Dr. Barbara Pahud, research director of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Mercy Hospital said previously.

Last month, the hospital announced that Phase 1 was underway, which means the focus is finding the appropriate vaccine dosage for children ages six months to 11-years-old.

“We grab the dose for adults and we give a percentage of that, maybe 10%, to the babies and we see how they do,” Pahud said. “If they do well, we go up on the dose and see how they do until we reach a point where they start having side effects that we may not tolerate as parents.”

The next step will be determining if these children are mounting a “robust immune response,” Pahud says.

“We are very close to finding the dose for children so that’s good news for everybody,” Pahud said.

Once the proper dosage is found and the vaccines are determined to be effective, the second phase of the trials will start on a global scale.

Pahud said this will open trial enrollment to even more children.

In the second and third phases, children will either be given the vaccine or a placebo. Data will be collected about those children’s immune response.

Vaccine opportunities this week

JCDHE has extended its walk-in clinic hours for the remainder of the month of May at its Lenexa clinic to:

  • 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
  • 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays
  • 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, and Saturday, May 22

Anyone needing a vaccination can simply walk in at the facility at 15500 W. 108th Street in Lenexa during those times and get a shot.

General vaccine appointments are still available as well and can be scheduled here.

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