We have another big win in the fight against COVID-19 with the recent recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the Pfizer vaccine to be given to everyone ages 12 years and older. All the data thus far shows us the vaccine is incredibly safe and works remarkably well.

The recent trial studied 3,770 adolescents, ages 12 to 15 years, with nearly half receiving the vaccine and the others a saline-placebo. They received two adult doses three weeks apart. The side effect profile was similar to adults. The most common side effects reported were mild to moderate pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, joint pain and muscle pain. There were no cases of Bell’s palsy, severe allergic reactions, blood clots, multi-system inflammatory syndrome, or deaths.

In this study, the vaccine was 72 percent effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection starting one week after the first dose and 100 percent protective a week after the second dose (cue in fireworks here).

Surveys show that nearly 50 percent of parents and their teen want the teen vaccinated. The numbers are not better because some hold the misconception that teens don’t become ill with COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, however, there have been more than 1.5 million cases and at least 127 COVID-related deaths reported among teens. This puts COVID-19 as one of the Top 10 causes of death for adolescents in the United States.

Vaccination will allow children to be children. They will not need to miss school, summer camps, sports or activities with friends. It also will keep them from spreading it to grandparents, teachers and other adults that may not be protected by vaccination. Remember, vaccination doesn’t completely protect people with poorly functioning immune systems.

Children represent one-quarter of our population and vaccinating them is necessary to reach full herd immunity. More people vaccinated will help stop the virus from circulating, and therefore, stop further variants from developing. It’s the only way to put an end to the pandemic.

Some worry that there’s not any long-term safety data, which is understandable given that the pandemic began a year and a half ago. Although the effects of side effects can last for years, there has never been a rare side effect with an onset more than six weeks after vaccination.

Hundreds of millions of people are past the six-week mark, and the only serious side effects, blood clots with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and severe allergic reactions with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, have been extremely rare.

On the flip side, we know problems following COVID-19 are much more common. Adults and even some teens, develop COVID long-haulers syndrome with symptoms lasting many months after infection. Common symptoms include extreme fatigue, “brain fog,” and loss of muscle tone and physical fitness.

Vaccination should let families get together for holidays. Teens will be able to go to prom, hang out with friends and attend graduation parties. We’re now seeing the light at the end of tunnel.

Vaccine Smarts is written by Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences faculty members Drs. Megan Berman, an associate professor of internal medicine, and Richard Rupp, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch. For questions about vaccines, email vaccine.smarts@utmb.edu.

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