Texas announces Pfizer vaccine now available to adolescents as young as 12 years old

Holly Ainsworth, a nursing intern at the University of Texas, prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine to Stephanie Vasquez, a PACU Nurse at UT HS-ASC, on Dec. 15, 2020.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Texans as young as 12 years old can soon start getting the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 immunization, state officials announced Thursday.

The Texas Department of State Health Services advised providers that the vaccine can be administered to adolescents age 12 to 15 years old, in line with federal guidance.

“While children are less likely than adults to be hospitalized or die from COVID-19, they can be infected with the virus and spread infection in their homes and communities,” said Imelda Garcia, DSHS associate commissioner for laboratory and infectious disease services and chair of the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, in a letter to vaccine providers. “DSHS believes that promptly vaccinating the adolescents in this age group is another valuable tool that will help end the COVID-19 pandemic and have a direct and positive effect on schools being open for classroom learning.”

Parental consent is required for vaccinating children in this age group, either orally or in writing, though the guardian does not necessarily need to be present for the shot itself. Garcia said at this point, the state has no intention of making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for school attendance for the coming fall term.

Census estimates show up to 1.7 million additional Texans could be vaccinated under this new change, Garcia said during a Thursday press conference, but state officials will continue to push for 16 and 17 year-olds to get the shot as well. The state has seen a significant increase in Pfizer dose requests from providers this week to prepare for demand, Garcia said.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the shot for adolescents on Monday, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinators are required to follow those recommendations. The Biden administration said it will be working with state officials to supply vaccines and make sure pediatricians and family doctors enroll to be providers.

Experts estimate 75% to 90% of Texas' population, which skews younger, needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. As of now, about 40% of all Texans 16 and older have been fully vaccinated. Only 29% of 16- to 49-year-olds have been fully vaccinated, despite that age group making up about half the state's population. Out of 49,527 COVID-19 deaths in Texas, 52 have been people younger than 20, according to DSHS data.