Virus Outbreak Pennsylvania

With federal authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine extended to adolescents on Monday and state approval slated imminently, the Jefferson County Health Department is preparing to vaccinate 12- through 15-year-olds.

JEFFERSON — With federal authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine extended to adolescents on Monday and state approval slated imminently, the Jefferson County Health Department is preparing to vaccinate 12- through 15-year-olds.

Another whole group becoming eligible for the vaccine will help greatly in slowing the spread of COVID-19 and preventing variants, which could spread more easily, be more lethal or be more resistant to the existing vaccines, said Samroz Jakvani, an epidemiologist who has been working closely with Jefferson County throughout the pandemic.

On Monday, the federal government authorized the Pfizer vaccine for 12- through 15-year-olds. A state health department advisory committee was set to meet Wednesday and was expected to add its authorization yet this week.

The pending state action will add another 300,000 Wisconsinites who will be eligible for the vaccine.

The Pfizer vaccine is the only one authorized for people under 18. The Johnson and Johnson and Moderna vaccines are so far only authorized for adults.

In preparation for the pending influx of youths into the system, the Jefferson County Health Department has set a walk-in vaccination clinic for adolescents on May 20. The “after-hours” clinic will take place from 4:30 to 6:45 p.m. at the Johnson Creek Outlet Mall.

The J&J and Moderna vaccine also will be available that day for adults needing their first or second shot.

As with all of the COVID-19 vaccines provided by the county, there will be no charge for adolescents getting the Pfizer vaccine.

Those under 16 will need a parent present to authorize them getting the shot.

The county also has reached to all of the affected schools in the area — public, private and parochial — to offer to set up on-site vaccination clinics right at the schools, Jakvani said.

The Johnson Creek and Lake Mills school districts have already organized clinics, tentatively set for May 19 and 21 respectively, and plans are in the works for clinics at other area schools as well, though they have not yet been finalized, the epidemiologist said.

Getting this group immunized also will lessen disruption in the schools during the final weeks of the school year. Though COVID-19 cases are down overall statewide, the disease is seeing surges in school-age kids who have not yet been able to get vaccinated.

That’s had ripple effects on school classrooms, programs and extracurriculars, setting off rounds of quarantines when someone inadvertently brings the virus to school.

“With mask orders going away, it’s important to take action right now,” Jakvani said, noting that an indoor classroom full of unmasked youth is a prime location for a superspreader event.

For the school-based clinics, he said, parental presence is not required, although students will need to have written permission to get the shot.

Vaccines vital

Now that trials have shown the Pfizer vaccine to be safe and effective for adolescents, it’s important to get this group vaccinated, Jakvani said.

Even though severe cases and hospitalizations are rare among this age group, he said that unvaccinated children with COVID-19 can certainly transmit the disease to others who might be more vulnerable.

“We don’t want the virus to keep circulating in our communities,” the epidemiologist said. “The more it spreads, the more people get sick, and the more mutations have the chance to arise that could be more infectious or lethal than the versions of the disease that are currently circulating.”

All of the approved vaccines offer a high degree of protection against all of the existing variants of COVID-19 — but the more the virus mutates, the greater the chance that some of those mutations will be resistant to the vaccine, he said.

Adding this group to the pool of vaccinated people could greatly reduce community spread of all variants.

“Where we see 50 percent or more of the people in an area vaccinated, we’ve seen cases decrease rapidly,” the epidemiologist said. “In areas where less than 50 percent of people are vaccinated, cases tend to sustain or increase.”

He noted that just because it’s rare for an adolescent to experience a severe case of COVID-19 doesn’t mean it can’t happen. There have been some cases of severe illness, even death, in children from COVID-19 or the related multisystem inflammatory syndrome which it can set off down the line.

And that’s not even counting the as-yet-undiscovered effects, as with those who are found to have heart and lung damage months after a COVID-19 diagnosis. This has been seen even in people who had “mild” cases during the regular course of the disease.

“We truly don’t know the full extent of the damage the virus is doing to people’s bodies,” Jakvani said.

“The research in this area is only beginning, but we are hearing reports of up to 30 percent of cases resulting in what’s being called ‘long COVID,’” Jakvani said. “A significant percent of our population may be experiencing reduced quality of life from this.”

Getting the vaccine to this younger group is “an important step toward protecting our young people’s long-term health,” he said. “It protects them. It protects their families. It protects the community, and it gives the virus less opportunity to evolve.”

Signing up

For those whose adolescent can’t make the initial walk-up clinic, there will be lots of opportunities to get the Pfizer shot elsewhere, Jakvani said.

With formal authorization by the state still pending, it’s not yet possible to sign up an adolescent for the COVID-19 vaccine online, but within a week or so it should be possible to sign up 12- through 15-year-olds through the statewide registry at the website vaccinate.wi.gov

“Appointments will be available as soon as the state opens it up to that age group,” Jakvani said. He said he expected that to occur this Friday at the latest.

In addition, anyone who reaches out to the health department will be hooked up with a vaccine at the earliest possibility.

“If you have a specific vaccine preference, it’s best to email us at vaccine@jeffersoncountywi.gov,” Jakvani said.

He said he has personally checked on the vaccine supply and the county should be well equipped to handle everyone who wants a Pfizer vaccine.

“We should not have any issue with the supply right now,” he said.

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