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Parents conflicted over vaccine, as 12- to 15-year-olds could be next for shots

As Pfizer says they are closing in on

As Pfizer says they are closing in on a vaccine that will be suitable for older children and teens, Newsday's Steve Langford on Sunday spoke with some Long Island parents about whether they might allow their kids to take the vaccine Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman; Debbie Egan-Chin

With federal authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for kids 12 to 15 expected within days, Long Island doctors are getting a barrage of questions from anxious parents who are mulling whether to get their kids inoculated.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said last week that he expects Food and Drug Administration authorization "very soon." A meeting of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee of experts that reviews vaccines is set for Wednesday.

Pfizer-BioNTech said last week that it expects to apply in September for authorization to use the vaccine in children 2 to 11.

What to know

The federal government is expected to give authorization in the next few days to use the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children 12 to 15.

If authorization is granted, kids may be able to obtain the vaccine at some Long Island schools or at special events aimed at them, as well as mass vaccination sites and other locations.

Doctors say the vaccine is safe and effective and that many of the concerns parents have are based on misinformation they see on social media.

Huntington pediatrician Dr. Eve Meltzer Krief said if the CDC and FDA confirm the vaccine is safe and effective for kids, she will get her 12-year-old son vaccinated and encourage parents to have their kids inoculated.

She said the likely authorization is "the best news that I've heard as a pediatrician in a very long time for these kids," noting that about 300 children have died in the United States of COVID-19, thousands have been hospitalized and thousands developed a disease linked to the virus' effects.

Kim Massa of Kings Park said her 15-year-old son is eager to get vaccinated.

"He is petrified he will bring it to me," said Massa, who has metastatic breast cancer, which makes her more vulnerable to severe COVID-19.

"I’m a strong believer that he has to get vaccinated for everybody, so he doesn’t go to school and give it to a teacher who then brings it home to her elderly mother," she said.

Phapha Bol of Elmont said she wants her son, 12, inoculated so he can lead a more normal life.

"I want to get him back to school," she said. "It’s very important for me for him to play sports. He’s been home and putting on a lot of weight. I want him to get out there and be able to play sports freely and interact with people."

Survey: 30% would get them shots right away

Other parents are less enthusiastic.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Thursday found that only 30% of U.S. parents of kids 12 to 15 would "get them vaccinated right away," 26% would "wait a while to see how it is working" and 23% would "definitely not get them vaccinated."

Deb Solomon of Merrick said she and her husband plan to get vaccinated after the lingering effects of COVID-19 — which they contracted three weeks ago — are gone. But they’re wary of having their sons, ages 12 and 14, who had mild coronavirus cases, inoculated.

"It’s a little nerve-wracking because they’re young," she said. "I’m not anti-vax at all. But this is totally new. I know they did testing, but they worked on this rapidly because it was so urgent," and studies on potential long-term effects aren’t yet possible.

"If they hadn’t gotten COVID, I would get them the vaccine," she said. "I would think the pros then outweigh the cons. But seeing that they’ve been infected [and created antibodies], it’s all a bit more ambiguous."

Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Medicine, said many parents have expressed unease about how quickly vaccines were developed. She emphasizes to them how the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been studied extensively and has now been administered to tens of millions of people.

In March, Pfizer-BioNTech said its research found similar side effects and efficacy among 12- to 15-year-olds as among young adults — findings Nachman said are "not surprising" because almost all other vaccines that are safe and effective in adults also are safe and effective in children.

Negative long-term effects are highly unlikely because negative vaccine effects are almost always seen within a few weeks of inoculation, Nachman said. What is clear is that many children and adults who contract the coronavirus are, months later, suffering long-term effects that "are very worrisome," she said.

Even so, kids are less likely to get severe COVID-19 cases than older adults — one reason Dina Seaman of Massapequa Park does not plan to get her daughter, 13, and son, 16, vaccinated.

Reports of rare blood clots in people who took the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines — the AstraZeneca vaccine is used abroad — have increased her unease.

Seaman knows health experts say the vaccine is safe and effective, but "there are so many people on social media saying ‘this happened to me, this happened to my neighbor,’ " she said.

But on any given day, people will die or get ill, whether they get vaccinated or not, and that doesn’t mean the vaccine caused the problem, said Dr. Tina Tan, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and an infectious disease doctor at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Tan said when parents come to her with vaccine concerns, it’s often based on misinformation they see online.

"I try to speak to them honestly and frankly and point them to internet sites that have reliable information, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics or the Centers for Disease Control, and really have them take whatever they read on social media with a grain of salt, because you can’t verify how accurate and true the information is," she said.

Doctor says to get fact-based guidance

Nachman encouraged parents to talk to pediatricians about the vaccine, to get fact-based guidance.

The CDC is planning for the expected authorization and wants the vaccine available to pediatricians and pharmacies, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday on MSNBC.

The Suffolk County Health Department has reached out to schools about hosting vaccinations, department spokeswoman Grace Kelly-McGovern said.

Ronald Masera, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said he and county officials are finalizing a detailed plan for in-school vaccinations that includes parental consent. Masera is superintendent of the Center Moriches School District, which recently hosted vaccinations for students 16 and up at Center Moriches High School.

Nassau and Northwell Health are planning to inoculate 16- to 18-year-olds at Nassau Community College Thursday through Sunday, and that will be expanded to kids 12 and up if the vaccine is authorized for them and appointments are available, county spokeswoman Vicki DiStefano said. There also may be similar future events.

With Erin Serpico

Health