California teens ages 12-15 have been able to get vaccinated for Covid as of May 13, but getting the shot will not be required for attending K-12 public schools in the state, said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly at a press briefing.
The announcement allows more than two million young people to get vaccinated. Families can start making appointments for their teens online at myturn.ca.gov. Pharmacies are also reconfiguring their websites to accept appointments for young people. Vaccines will also become available at pediatricians’ offices, Federally Qualified Heath Centers, and primary care facilities.
Earlier this month, the state opened up vaccination for anyone aged 16 or older: more than 30 percent of that population has already received at least one dose, according to the California Department of Public Health.
California public schools require numerous vaccinations and boosters for kids attending their campuses. But Ghaly explained that the Pfizer Covid vaccine, which was approved May 10 to be administered to 12–15-year-olds, is still under emergency use authorization only, and does not have full Food and Drug Administration approval.
Currently, Pfizer is the only vaccine available to youth ages 12 to 15. Moderna and Johnson and Johnson have not yet submitted their data for approval by the FDA. Moderna announced March 16 that it is testing its vaccine on babies and children under 12.
The UC system and the CSU system announced April 22 they are mandating students and faculty to be fully vaccinated against Covid before attending classes on campus.
Ghaly noted that young people who have been vaccinated may experience some side effects like fatigue, fever, headache, much like what some adults experience. More significant side effects, such as severe disease or death, are extremely rare, he said.
“Young people have shouldered a significant burden throughout Covid. They have been denied certain activities, certain milestones, certain important events,” said Ghaly.
“They have shouldered additional degrees of anxiety and depression and other mental health, and behavioral Health impacts.”
“We can now provide, with a certain degree of confidence, protection to those young people to start to resume activities, visit more with friends visit with families and friends. It’s a tremendous opportunity for that group to sort of experience that sense of normalcy that they have been missing,” said Ghaly.
Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist at the CDPH, noted that California has reached almost 62 percent herd immunity, and the addition of teens will go far in reaching the goal of 75 to 80 percent herd immunity.
“We want to continue to improve. If we look around the world, we can see that we are still very vulnerable,” she said, referring to mutant variants — more lethal than the original virus and possibly immune to current vaccines — spreading across the globe.
“Every shot matters,” she said, noting that Covid is increasingly showing up in younger people who have been hospitalized and died from the infection.
The state is partnering with social media influencers, pediatricians, schools, teachers, churches, and other trusted messengers to get information out to younger people about the benefits of being vaccinated. Peer to peer engagement is important, said Pan, noting that promotoras and other community health workers will be engaged in getting the message about vaccines out to children and their parents.
Children between the ages of 12 and 15 will need parental consent to obtain the Covid vaccine, said Ghaly, noting that exceptions will be made for emancipated youth. Myturn.ca.gov will have a mechanism allowing parents to provide written consent online so that they don’t have to accompany their children for vaccine shots.