On Monday, May 10, the FDA expanded their Emergency Use Authorization, or EUA, of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine to include adolescents 12 to 15 years of age. In simple terms, anyone 12 and up and can now get the Pfizer vaccine. Here’s what you should know.
First of all, it may be important to go over how the vaccine works. The vaccine leaves your body with T-lymphocytes, a type of defensive white blood cell, which remembers the virus and will recognize it if it encounters it again. The vaccine also leaves another type of white blood cell, called B-lymphocytes, which produces antibodies that will attack the virus once it is detected. These white blood cells are produced a few weeks after your vaccination, which is why you can still contract COVID-19 if you encounter it right before or after your vaccination. Of the vaccines that require two shots, you have some protection after one, but are not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after your second dose.
Now that you know a little more about how the vaccine works, there’s good news: the Pfizer trial for 12 to 15 year olds was very promising. The trial was composed of 2,260 participants. 1,129 of the participants were given a placebo, while the other 1,131 were given the vaccine. Of the vaccinated group, none contracted COVID-19 while 18 of the placebo group did. The vaccine is concluded to have 100% efficacy in 12 to 15 year olds, as well as a better antibody response than older participants in previous trials.
The CDC says the vaccine is safe and effective. The FDA thoroughly evaluated its safety before approving it. There are some minor side effects, but serious ones are extremely rare. Minor side effects are normal. They are signs that your immune system is reacting and you are building immunity. These side effects include pain, redness, and swelling near the injection site. Full body effects include fatigue, headaches, muscle or joint pains, chills, fever, and nausea. Tips to mitigate these side effects include using or exercising your arm, placing a cool wet cloth on it, and drinking plenty of water. Rarely, someone may suffer an allergic reaction to the vaccine called anaphylaxis. A severe allergic reaction would require an Epipen, while a non-severe one might be hives, swelling, and wheezing (within four hours of getting the vaccine). However, vaccine providers will have resources such as epinephrine and antihistamine in case of these. If you suffer an allergic reaction of these kinds, it would not be recommended to get the second shot, but if you get what is known as “COVID arm”, a rash, you should still get the second dose.
The vaccine is free and available. It’s recommended to get it as soon as possible. One resource to get your appointment is https://www.vaccines.gov/. Here in California, another resource is https://myturn.ca.gov/. You can also check your local pharmacies’ websites for any available appointments. Once you have your appointment, you should know that some sort of identification is needed to show proof of eligibility. You may want to contact the site or review your confirmation email to know what type of identification you can bring. You will also be monitored on site for 15 minutes after the shot to make sure there are no serious reactions.
The more people get the vaccine, the closer we are to herd immunity. It’s one step closer to returning to normal, and it’s also very beneficial on an individual level. Not only does it mean you can worry significantly less about contracting COVID, or at the very least, getting seriously ill, but the CDC has also said that once you are fully vaccinated, you don’t need to be masked in most situations (although state guidelines may be different). So if you haven’t already done so, go get vaccinated.