Expanding COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Would Be A Big Step Toward Herd Immunity, Health Officials Say

Federal Regulators Consider Whether To Approve Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine For Use In Kids Ages 12 To 15

A sign says "COVID CLINIC" with an arrow to the right. Signs for high school athletics hang above it.
A sign directs high schoolers and community members to the COVID-19 vaccination clinic set up in the school’s theater Tuesday, May 4, 2021, at St. Francis High School in St. Francis, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

If federal regulators approve the Pfizer vaccine for use in children age 12 to 15, local health officials say it will be a big step in increasing overall COVID-19 vaccination levels in Wisconsin.

That’s because 21 percent of the state’s population is under age 18, and vaccines are being tested in children as young as 6 months.

So far 37 percent of the state is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. While better than the nation, it’s nowhere near levels that might be needed for herd immunity, which are upwards of 70 percent of the population.

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Public health official across Wisconsin, including Crawford County Public Health officer Cindy Riniker, are sending out vaccination consent forms to parents who want their children age 12-15 to receive a shot when this age group becomes eligible.

“I am hoping for a good uptake in the schools,” Riniker said. “Mainly we’re pushing the fact that if they’re in sports or extracurricular activities, and they are fully vaccinated, they do not have to quarantine if they come in contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19.”

In Waukesha that’s no longer an incentive. The Waukesha School District recently ended its quarantine policy for students and staff exposed to others infected with the coronavirus. Students and staff can still self-quarantine.

If the Food and Drug Administration expands use of the Pfizer vaccine, polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds about 29 percent of parents of children under age 18 say they would get their child vaccinated “right away.”

An additional 32 percent wanted to see how the vaccine is working before getting their child inoculated, according to the poll.

In Dane County, where vaccine uptake has been strong overall and 60 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds have received at least one dose, local health director Janel Heinrich is urging people to “beat the rush” and book an appointment or just show up before the next eligible group seeks shots.

There are between 25,000 and 30,000 children age 12 to 15 in the county who could become eligible to be vaccinated once federal health officials give clearance.

Statewide, there are about 300,000 children in the age group, said Wisconsin Department of Health Services Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk.