INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Beginning Thursday morning, new protection will be possible for kids as young as 12 after federal health officials on Wednesday expanded eligibility of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.
Hoosier parents can sign up their children on the state’s website beginning at 8 a.m. Thursday.
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Heather Thomas was at the park an hour after the Pfizer announcement Wednesday. Her 14-year-old twin girls are home on quarantine for the third time this year.
“Now they’re being quarantined again because someone in the school has caught COVID,” Thomas said.
News that they are eligible for the vaccine Thursday morning gave her something new to ponder, especially knowing that if her girls get their shots now and they’re a close contact in the fall, they won’t have to quarantine as long as they don’t show symptoms.
“That would be great because my kids love sports,” Thomas said. “I think we might get a vaccine; still not sure.”
Dr. John Christenson is a pediatrician and the medical director of infection protection at Riley Hospital for Children. He said it’s a misconception that adolescents aren’t at risk of the coronavirus.
“Especially adolescents, it’s a group we need to protect,” Christenson said. “It’s going to be a great vaccine. It’s needed.”
He said getting the vaccine helps protect children and others around them who might be more vulnerable, such as grandparents.
The doctor noted that while much has been made of deaths in the older populations, thousands of kids have died, too. “Some of them were children who didn’t have anything wrong with them except they came down with coronavirus and died of it,” he said.
Christenson also has seen the toll on mental health for teens and adolescents who have tried to take their own lives while in quarantine away from their friends and normal levels of human interaction. “It’s not the only factor but it is a contributing factor, no question about it.”
Dr. Lindsay Weaver, Indiana’s chief medical officer, and other physicians say the issue is not just professional but personal. “As a parent, I want my oldest daughter who has been so worried for this past year to finally have peace of mind,” Weaver said.
Officials shared several eye-opening statistics Wednesday they hope motivates people on the fence to get their shots. They said 99.3% of coronavirus cases in Indiana have happened in people without the vaccine. Those people have a roughly 1 in 500 chance of being hospitalized. While that may sound small, people who have been fully immunized have a roughly 1 in 50,000 chance of needing hospitalization if they get COVID.
“Please don’t gamble with your health or the health of your loved ones,” Weaver said in a news teleconference Wednesday. “Expanding the vaccine to younger Hoosiers will help our children start getting back to the activities they love. It will help them have a summer that is focused on quality time not quarantine. It will also help insure that the next school year looks much different for our students, teachers and staff. We all want that normalcy and the best way to get there is to increase the number of people who are fully vaccinated.”
Back at the park, Thomas said she believes the vaccine is safe but still has a few nagging doubts that have held her back at least for now. “I’m really thinking about doing it because I have health risks. I need to get it done because I love my kids and we like going around people,” she said.
State health officials said 30 counties in Indiana did not have any sites with the Pfizer vaccine as of this week. So they are sending doses to each of the county health departments which will arrive Thursday.
They are sending additional doses for the other county health departments; those vaccines will arrive Monday.
One more change in medical advice was also announced by federal health officials. After studying the issue, both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics said it is fine to give the coronavirus vaccine at the same time as vaccines for other diseases because there have been no unexpected side effects.