COVID vaccine eligibility for kids may soon expand: DHS

Across Wisconsin, 2.1 million people who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine are yet to receive their shots.

While that means 2.5 million people have received at least one dose, the state is hitting a plateau in its vaccination rate. However, a looming decision could help provide a bump in shots.

State health officials said Tuesday, May 4 that they are waiting on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve Pfizer's vaccine for younger teens, with plans already underway on how to make shots accessible to that age group.

The FDA is reportedly expected to grant emergency use of the vaccine for those 12-15 years old early next week after clinical trials proved successful.

The planning comes as some schools have had to switch back to virtual learning due to COVID-19 cases.

"We did not hear there was any safety concerns. And in general, with vaccines, adolescents tend to mount very robust, very effective immune responses," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Diseases.

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While young people are far less likely to get seriously sick from the virus compared to older adults, they have been more susceptible to recent upticks in infections.

"Who has the highest incidence and rate of infection right now? Children under 18, who are largely not eligible for the vaccine," Julie Willems Van Dijk, DHS deputy secretary, said.

The newly-anticipated eligible population could help boost the number of weekly vaccinations, which has seen a drop off in recent weeks. Some 300,000 Wisconsin children could soon be eligible.

"If you climb a mountain, you climb and then you go on a plateau. We’ve done the big ascent and now we’re at the plateau. I don’t know if there will be another big ascent. Perhaps as we add new populations of children," said Willems Van Dijk.

State health officials shited their messaging from trying to reach herd immunity, to simply trying to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

"Thousands more people are starting their vaccine series. But we’re not going to see tens and hundreds of thousands of people starting their vaccine series every day," Willems Van Dijk said.

State health officials said another consequence of less demand for the vaccine has been more doses going to waste. In the beginning of the vaccine rollout, hundreds of shots each week had to be thrown out because they expired before going into arms. Now, that weekly number is between 1,000 and 2,000.

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