Dr. Mendoza: ‘We know this vaccine is safe and effective for kids 12 and up’

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective for children 12 years old and older, no vaccinations will be given to children without parental consent, and the 12-15 age group could begin receiving the vaccine as early as Thursday.

That was the message from Monroe County Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, who was joined by local health officials for a press conference Tuesday.

The FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in children ages 12-15 Monday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that New Yorkers in the 12-15 age group could begin receiving vaccines as soon as Thursday.

Joining Dr. Mendoza for Tuesday’s press conference was:

  • Dr. Stephen Cook, UR Medicine Golisano Children’s Hospital pediatrician
  • Dr. Steve Schulz, Rochester Regional Health pediatrician
  • Dr. Angela Branche, URMC infectious disease expert and co-director of the University’s Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit
  • Mary Sargent, RN, Rochester Regional Health pediatric nurse

“This is very good news for our community, but I know many parents and adolescents still have questions, and rightfully so,” Dr. Mendoza said. “I hope we can begin addressing your concerns. This vaccine has proven to be safe and effective for ages 12 and up. I urge all adolescents and parents to to with your own family health care provider with your concerns. Do your own research from valuable, valid sources, and as soon as your ready, ask your doctor if your child can receive the vaccine right at your doctor’s office.”

The health commissioner encouraged families to use the Finger Lakes Vaccine Hub’s appointment finder tool to find available vaccines near them, adding that doctor’s offices who are not currently offering vaccines will be able to do so.

“If you are an office who is not yet providing the vaccine, the Monroe County Department of Public Health stands ready to assist you in the process of doing so,” Dr. Mendoza said. “Any vaccine clinic in the community that has Pfizer will soon be open to individuals 12 and older.”

The health commissioner says younger residents make up a large portion of the county population and every person vaccinated is a step closer to ending this pandemic.

“Please do not wait,” Dr. Mendoza said. “This vaccine will help keep your child safe, and in turn, keep our entire community safe. Getting your child vaccinated will help stop this virus from spreading in our community and help end the pandemic. It is easier now than ever to get this vaccine where you and your child feel most comfortable.”

“This is fantastic news we’ve been waiting for a long time,” said Dr. Schulz. “I’ve had plenty of families calling to ask my opinion and it’s a universal ‘yes.’ Get the vaccine as soon as you can, wherever you can. This is fantastic — it’s going to slow the spread in our community and slow the spread in the country.”

“We are crossing a major point now, reaching a population we haven’t reached yet” said Dr. Cook. “Roughly 2.8 million cases in pediatric patients so this disease is not something to be taken lightly. Any opportunity for the disease to spread is an opportunity for a variant strain.”

Although children generally don’t get as sick when diagnosed with COVID-19 as their older counterparts, the health commissioner says kids have played a role in spreading the virus since the start of the pandemic — reiterating that vaccinating more children will play a role in slowing the spread.

“We have kids are impacted, we know this is true, and we also know kids can demonstrate, perhaps, a higher propensity toward transmitting it to other people — so we have to think about the older parent s and adults who are not yet vaccinated,” Dr. Mendoza said. “We want to get out of this, we all want t have a baseball game without having to worry about what section you’re sitting in.”

The health commissioner said while he encourages families to get vaccinated, he said he understand that it’s a personal decision and that shaming people is not productive.

“We get nowhere by shaming one another, no matter what side of the fence you’re on. We get farther as a community by ensuring we have a safe conversation with one another,” Dr. Mendoza said. “If we can find the way to raise the conversation in a non-judgmental way, I think that opens the door to that comfort, but there’s no question this is going to take weeks, and months.”

Dr. Branche says the 12-15 age group will get the same dose as adults, and that trials are advancing for doses to people younger than 12.

“For the 12-15 year olds, they will be getting the same dose as adults, and probably some of the younger children,” said Dr. Branche. “But when you get down to those really young ages, they are doing what we call dose finding studies where they try small doses and then they escalate up until they find a dose that is the least reactogenic, but produces the best immune response. I can say in the 12-to-15 study, they all tolerated the adult dose very well, which basically has the same side effects some of us are feeling, and they also have a very good immune response.”

The health commissioner said Monroe County vaccination clinics would offer walk in vaccines, but that he didn’t know if state sites would as well. He added that some schools would be adding vaccine clinics in the coming weeks as well.

“We have a list of pods that we set up at schools going into the next week,” Dr. Mendoza said. “At least six of seven different districts asking to really take the lead with students and parents, asking them what are the messages that really work for your community, so we want to let them take the lead.”

Watch the full press conference

This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.

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