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COVID vaccines for kids 12-15 could start in Arizona as soon as Thursday

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PHOENIX – Arizona’s high-capacity state-run COVID-19 vaccination sites will be ready to give shots to kids ages 12-15 on Thursday if the group gains final federal clearance as expected, the state health department announced Tuesday.

Other sites around metro Phoenix are also expected to lower their age requirements “right away” once a vaccine advisory committee issues new usage recommendations for the Pfizer vaccine.

“We’re delighted to be able to welcome these young people to state-run mass-vaccination sites starting Thursday,” Arizona Department of Health Services Director Dr. Cara Christ said in a press release.

“These safe, highly effective, and free vaccines are our best shot at returning to normal, and having more vaccinated individuals gives COVID-19 less of a chance of spreading.”

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration declared that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15.

Kids in that age group can start getting the two-dose Pfizer shots in the U.S. after the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices finalizes its recommendations, which is expected to happen Wednesday.

The state-run sites in metro Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff and Yuma accept walk-ins, but appointments are encouraged. Plans call for the online reservation system to start accepting ages 12-15 at 8 a.m. Thursday. Parental consent is necessary.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of Maricopa County Disease Control, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday that other Valley sites already providing Pfizer shots to people as young as 16 should be able to lower their age requirement quickly.

“It really depends on when the particular facility has everything up and running and ready to go,” she said.

“If they’ve already been giving Pfizer vaccine, which is authorized for ages 16 and up, so they already have a process to consent parents for their minor children, then, yes, they can be up and giving it right away to 12 and up.”

Sunenshine said public health officials have been anticipating this moment for a while.

“We’ve already worked with our partners in Arizona Department of Health Services to make sure that there’s Pfizer vaccine at our retail pharmacies, federally qualified health care centers, county public health clinics, and we’re having lots of community events that will also be able to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds,” she said.

“We’re also working closely with our schools to make sure there are community-level events to make sure folks don’t have to travel really far to those state-run PODs [points of dispensing] to get it, although, of course, there’s always the option of state-run PODs.”

Sunenshine said lowering the vaccination age is a key step forward in the fight against COVID-19.

“To really stop COVID from spreading efficiently in the community, we’ve got to get as many people vaccinated as possible. And adding this whole age group from 12 to 15 will increase the percentage of the population that is vaccinated, essentially putting up a wall to stopping COVID spread,” she said.

“It’s going to be even more important when school starts in August because we want our kids back in school in person, and the more of them that are vaccinated the safer the school environment is going to be.”

According to the state health department’s daily update Tuesday, 5,383,508 vaccine doses have been administered in Arizona, with 3,068,234 people (42.7% of the state’s population) having received at least one shot and 2,517,206 people fully vaccinated.

The department estimates that Arizona has nearly 400,000 residents in the 12-15 age group.

Dr. Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association and former ADHS director, said parents seeking more information about vaccinating their kids should rely on their pediatricians.

“That’s who parents trust,” Humble told KTAR News’ The Mike Broomhead Show on Tuesday. “Those are the folks that have seen their kids since they were 6 months old, before that probably. It’s who they trust, and that’s where they should go for the additional information.

“Don’t listen to me. Don’t listen to Facebook. Listen to your doctor.”

ADHS said Tuesday it is working to get Pfizer vaccines to rural counties that have been receiving only Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, which are authorized for adults 18 and older.

For details about statewide vaccine availability, the ADHS website has a vaccine-finder page showing locations and registration information.

For information about metro Phoenix vaccine availability, Maricopa County Public Health has a locator page that lists pharmacies, government-run sites, health clinics and pop-up distribution events.

Appointments may be required depending on the provider.

Spots at the state-run sites can be secured at https://podvaccine.azdhs.gov/ or by calling 844-542-8201. A new batch of appointments for the following week at those locations, which use the Pfizer vaccine, are released every Friday.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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For Arizona vaccine information, visit azdhs.gov/findvaccine.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

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