As we eclipse the 1-year mark on schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s good news yet: Students are becoming eligible for immunization.
As of the time of writing, the FDA has authorized three COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use in the U.S.: The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was authorized on December 11, 2020, the Moderna vaccine on December 18, and the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine on February 27, 2021.
States have released requirement schedules for the rollout of these vaccines, prioritized by risk of serious illness from contracting the virus. High-priority groups include the elderly and those with high-risk medical exceptions. Age is the final barrier on these prioritization lists, with age requirements in earlier priority groups often standing at 65, 55, or even 30 years old before all adults become eligible.
Studies have shown that children are generally much less likely to require intensive care, which has put them at this lower priority for vaccination. The Pfizer vaccine was the first to be indicated for use on teens ages 16 and 17. Moderna and Janssen vaccines are authorized only for ages 18 and up as of this April.
States have since expanded their eligible groups, with many accelerating their schedules because of increased vaccine availability.
Alaska removed requirements for vaccine eligibility on March 9th, 2021, becoming the first state to offer immunization to the general population ages 16+. Mississippi was 2nd, announcing on March 17th. By the end of March, nearly half of U.S. states had opened eligibility to the general population as young as 16 years old.
On April 6th, President Biden announced a deadline of April 19th for all states to offer vaccines to all of their residents ages 16 and older.
All states allow some exceptions to the restrictions for this youngest age group, ranging from medical situations to developmental disabilities. Visit your state’s COVID-19 online hub in the list above to learn more.
What about students under 16?
As of April 7th, no vaccine has been authorized in the U.S. for use on children under the age of 16.
Pfizer announced on March 31st that its vaccine is effective for children as young as 12. Moderna is in clinical trials for younger children and is set to announce its results in “spring 2021.” Some researchers estimate that students as young as 12 could get vaccinated as early as this summer.
Check back on this article for statewide announcements on vaccine eligibility for younger students. In the meantime, check out our article on at-home activities while learning stays at home.
Should I get vaccinated when it’s available?
As more schools announce their reopening this spring, students are returning to their familiar in-person environment. Teachers and other school staff were among the first state-defined groups of people to be eligible for vaccines.
But even in a school setting with immunized staff and CDC-recommended procedures, it’s important to consider safety in any setting involving close contact with others.
“It is essential for anyone who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to get it,” says Leann Poston, M.D., career pediatric physician, medical teacher, and former Director of Admissions at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine. “There are documented cases of healthy adolescents who have had long-COVID symptoms including shortness of breath and difficulty with attention span in school. The long-term effects of this virus cannot be fully known at this point and any attempts to prevent illness are warranted.
“Getting vaccinated should not change anyone’s behavior until the spread has decreased enough that everyone is protected. Students should continue practicing social distancing, handwashing, wearing masks and schools should maximize ventilation in the classroom.”
Here are 5 important places to look for helpful information on how COVID-19 can affect your school and life environment:
- CDC COVID-19 info center for general information, FAQs, and guidance
- CDC’s Hand Hygiene guide for staying safe in public places
- Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center for latest stats on COVID-19 in your county and state
- Your state’s website for current restrictions due to COVID-19 (see the table above)
- Your school’s website for COVID-19 updates and guidelines