The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorized use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 12-15 on May 12, meaning middle and high school-age Johnson County residents now have the opportunity to be vaccinated.
The Family Medical Center at Johnson County Healthcare Center will receive its first 30-dose shipment of Pfizer vaccines this week from Sheridan County Public Health, according to marketing director Jennifer Burden. Anyone interested in receiving the vaccine can call the center to get on the list — the Pfizer vaccine will be available to all residents who want it, regardless of age, according to Kristina Duarte, the healthcare center’s infection preventionist.
She said the center plans to start administering Pfizer vaccines on June 1.
“We want to give it time to make sure that our freezer is all set to go, and then also it's a really busy time for families these last couple of weeks of school,” Duarte said.
According to a press release from the agency, the FDA amended the emergency use authorization initially issued in December for administration in individuals 16 years of age and older to include individuals aged 12-15.
The Wyoming Department of Health gave the go-ahead to providers on May 12 to administer the vaccine to the new age group.
“We’re really excited to offer this vaccine to the community, especially younger people,” said hospital CEO Sean McCallister. “It's a nice milestone to be at, and we’re interested to see how many people within that younger age range and their parents are interested in getting it.”
McCallister said individuals who want to receive the Pfizer vaccine before June 1 can do so in Sheridan, at their public health office, the hospital or Walmart.
Duarte saidthe hospital can easily obtain more doses if residents want the Pfizer vaccine, but due to storage concerns, they don’t want to take more than they need.
“If we have an influx of interest and we're happy to get more,” Duarte said. “We’re not bound to 30 doses.”
At this point, providers are instructed to order COVID-19 vaccines rather than automatically receiving new shipments every week, said Kim Deti, spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health.
“We have also encouraged providers to work together to help make Pfizer more available when the storage and order requirements for that vaccine are challenging,” she wrote in an email.
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines must be stored in an ultracold freezer, which prevented the state from sending them to most of Wyoming’s rural counties early on.
The healthcare facility has had an ultracold freezer since the beginning of the pandemic, which Laurie Hansen, newly appointed interim CEO and director of administration, told the hospital board at its April 28 meeting would be ready to receive the first shipment. The vaccine is packaged in 10-dose vials, meaning 10 people need to be inoculated within six hours after the container is opened to avoid waste, according to the CDC.
The healthcare center has already received a few calls about the vaccine for 12-15 year olds, Duarte said.
As of May 25, nearly 36% of the county’s adult population is vaccinated. Nearly 22% of the county’s population consists of children under 18 years of age, according to the Wyoming Department of Administration & Information. Duarte said she expects the acceptance rate among adolescents will mirror that of the community’s adults.
“If we don't have high percentages of adults who want to get vaccinated, we’re not going to have high percentages of children,” Duarte said. “We’re hopeful on our end.”
The CDC reversed course on an initial recommendation to avoid coadministration of the COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines, such as those required for students entering public school. A 14-day period before or after COVID-19 vaccine administration is no longer required, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
Logistically, this new guidance makes it easier for parents to bring their kids in for vaccinations just once instead of scheduling multiple appointments, Duarte said. The Pfizer vaccine is a two-dose vaccine, with 21 days between the first and second. Individuals under 18 years old will need a consent form signed by a parent, though a parent doesn’t need to be present for the vaccination.
“A lot of kids in this country are behind on their vaccines because of COVID and having access to health care,” Duarte said. “I think, especially at back to school time, when we start seeing kids for back to school physicals, this is the time that we can get them caught up on their other vaccines and offer them a COVID vaccine at the same time.”
As the summer months approach, McCallister said, Buffalo will see an influx of out-of-town tourists, and residents will travel out of town, too. Duarte said getting kids vaccinated is important, because young people are still susceptible to the coronavirus.
“My family, for example, three out of the four of us are fully vaccinated, so we still have to be mindful and cautious of protecting that fourth member of our family,” Duarte said. “But as soon as they’re vaccinated, we're free to travel and feel safe about doing that.”
Johnson County students are in their final week of school, so hospital officials said they won’t be working with the district on vaccination efforts at this point.
“We’re hoping in the fall when we’re back to school, we will look at partnering with the schools and trying to catch some kids that way,” Duarte said.