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St. Louis Parents Weigh Vaccinating Young Teens Following Federal Approval

Jennings students sit spaced out July 13, 2020, listening to instructions during a pilot in-person school model being tried out this month in the north St. Louis County District.
File photo / Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Jennings students sit spaced out after returning to in-person learning in summer 2020.

Parents, hospitals and schools in the St. Louis area are gearing up to vaccinate adolescents and young teens against the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for use in 12- to 15-year-olds on Wednesday afternoon. Schools and hospitals already have begun scheduling appointments for parents to take their children to be vaccinated.

Many parents in the St. Louis region were excited to schedule the shots.

“We are just so thankful that ... science has provided this for us,” said Kim Linhares, a Kirkwood parent who scheduled weekend vaccination appointments for her 12- and 15-year-olds.

The Pfizer vaccine already had been approved for use in teens 16 and older.

The vaccinations will come just in time for her son to enjoy summer vacation, Linhares said.

“He has an opportunity to go to Boy Scout camp. He has opportunities to go to music camp, that before we were really on the fence about and he was definitely not comfortable with,” she said. “Once he's fully vaccinated, then he’ll be able to just do regular fun summer activities.”

Peter Seay, whose son Mason goes to Parkway West High School, hopes the vaccines will help kids get back to normal social lives after a challenging year.

“He really didn't want to be responsible for getting everyone else sick,” Seay said of his son, who turns 15 in a few weeks. “So he's really … cut off an entire social circle.”

He added: ‘I think it’s maybe a very dangerous thing for social emotional development.”

Sarah Pitt Kaplan, who has a 13-year-old son in Kirkwood Schools, said she was “jumping up and down” with excitement for the vaccine.

“My dad is a doctor, my mom's a nurse, I grew up in a medical family,” she said. “So we've been following all of it very closely. And we're very excited.”

The nearby Ladue school district has already scheduled a clinic for Friday. Other districts are gauging parent interest and planning clinics.

Not all parents are likely to be as excited, said Hilary Babcock, an infectious disease specialist at Washington University and BJC HealthCare.

“These kids have to essentially be brought in and consented for by their parents,” she said. “So there’s a reasonable chance it will align pretty well with our adult vaccinations, because the adults who got vaccinated are likely to want their kids to get vaccinated, and adults who had worries or concerns about the vaccine may have those same concerns and worries for their kids as well.”

Dr. Jason Newland discusses expanded vaccine eligibility on St. Louis on the Air

Nearly half of Missourians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, but the number of people being vaccinated each day has been declining in recent weeks.

There are more than 300,000 12- to 15-year-olds in Missouri, comprising about 5% of the state’s population.

Despite the group making up a relatively small portion of the state’s total population, Babcock expects expanding eligibility will make a difference in fighting the pandemic. In recent months, many young people have tested positive for the coronavirus, she said, and every person who receives a vaccine helps keep hospitalizations and new case numbers down.

“Minimizing the risk, that infection, to anyone in your household protects everyone in your household,” she said.

At least one regional hospital, Mercy Health, began vaccinating young teenagers on Tuesday after the federal Food and Drug Administration granted Pfizer emergency use authorization to use the vaccine in the age group.

Babcock said BJC expects to begin vaccinating adolescents first thing Thursday morning.

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @petit_smudge

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Sarah is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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