Indiana residents ages 12-15 could have Pfizer shots in their arms as soon as Thursday.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel, composed of independent experts, recommended on Wednesday afternoon that eligibility be expanded to young teens. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky followed suit Wednesday evening.
The move opens vaccine access to about 17 million young teens across the country, according to the CDC.
Prior to the decision, state leaders said early Wednesday afternoon that they already had begun preparing to make vaccine available to the new cohort.
“Expanding the vaccine to younger Hoosiers will help our children start getting back to the activities they love, that will help them to have a summer that is focused on quality time and not quarantine,” said Dr. Lindsay Weaver, chief medical officer at the state health department, at a news conference.
Some states began giving the vaccine to young teens after the Food and Drug Administration expanded emergency authorization Monday, but most were waiting for CDC approval.
Thirty Indiana counties don’t have locations offering the Pfizer vaccine, so the state is shipping doses to local health departments in those areas, Weaver and Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box said. Those are expected to arrive Thursday. Health departments in other counties will get additional Pfizer doses by Monday.
The move will help get young people back to a more normal school year in the fall, Weaver said. Her own 15-year-old daughter, she said, has had to quarantine twice this year, and missed weeks of in-person school and extracurriculars.
“If [vaccinated children] do get exposed to COVID-19, they’re not going to have to be quarantined,” Box added. “They don’t have to miss school, they don’t have to worry about not getting to do their athletic events and not to worry about missing band or the show choir or whatever.”
However, children won’t be required to be vaccinated to get back to the classroom.
“The state of Indiana right now, [the] Department of Health, does not have any plans to mandate the vaccine for anyone,” Box said.
Once the CDC greenlit the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, Indiana officials expected to open registration with appointments available as early as 8 a.m. Thursday.
Nearly all of the state’s 700 vaccination locations are also taking walk-ins. Parents or guardians will need to sign a consent form, but any trusted adult can take children to get the shot.
“If mom or dad work and that’s a barrier to that child being immunized, they can bring the consent form in as long as there’s an adult with them,” Box said.
“We all want that normalcy, and the best way to get there is to increase the number of people who are fully vaccinated,” Weaver said.
Indiana’s COVID-19 hospitalizations are declining following a spike in late April, although the number of admissions each day is still more than 100, Box said.
Health officials attributed some of the new hospitalizations to the state’s proximity to Michigan, which in recent weeks has been a national hotspot for infections and hospitalizations. The State Department of Health’s weekly tracking map showed three of the five Indiana counties that border Michigan with orange risk — the second highest of the four ratings. One other nearby county also has an orange rating, while 10 more northern Indiana counties have the next highest yellow rating.
Virus variants have increased “significantly” over the past two weeks, representing nearly 42% of Indiana’s most recently sequenced samples, Box said. Indiana has reported almost 1,900 coronavirus variant cases as of Wednesday.
About 40% of Indiana residents who are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine have been fully immunized, according to state health officials, up from 33% two weeks ago.
But the average number of people receiving shots has declined from almost 56,000 a day in mid-April to fewer than 32,000, and Weaver said Indiana administered roughly 19% fewer vaccine doses last week compared to the previous week.
Indiana ranks 41st of the 50 states according to percentage of total population that has been fully vaccinated, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Unvaccinated people account for 99.3% of Indiana’s coronavirus cases. Health officials said vaccination rates must improve.
“We’re working on those who have been on the fence or who remain hesitant, and we’re doing that one shot at a time,” Box said. “We have made incredible progress as a state and our fight against this pandemic, but we still have a journey ahead of us and we don’t want to give up any ground.”