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WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration is preparing to authorize the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in adolescents 12 to 15 years old early next week, according to federal officials familiar with the agency’s plans, opening the American vaccination campaign to millions of other people.

Some parents are counting the weeks since Pfizer announced the results of its trial in adolescents showing the vaccine to be at least as effective in this age group as it is in adults. Immunization of children is essential for raising the level of immunity of the population and reducing the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

The authorization, in the form of an amendment to the existing emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine, could come as soon as the end of this week. If granted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory committee will likely meet the next day to review clinical trial data and make recommendations on vaccine use in adolescents.

The expansion would be a major development in the country’s vaccination campaign and good news for some parents keen to protect their children during summer activities and before the start of the next school year. It also poses another challenge for policy makers who struggle to vaccinate a large percentage of adults who are reluctant to be vaccinated. Many others may refuse to immunize their children.

Pfizer reported several weeks ago that none of the adolescents in the clinical trial who received the vaccine developed symptomatic infections, a sign of significant protection. The company said the volunteers produced strong antibody responses and had roughly the same side effects seen in people between the ages of 16 and 25.

Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Caccomo said she couldn’t comment on the timing of the agency’s decision.

“We can assure the public that we are working to consider this request as quickly and transparently as possible,” she said.

More than 100 million adults in the United States have been fully immunized. But clearance would come in the midst of a delicate and complex push to reach the 44% of adults who have yet to receive a single injection.

As much of the world clamors for the surplus of US-made vaccines, the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in adolescents will also raise the question of whether the supply should be targeted to an age group. which, so far, appears to be mostly spared Covid19.

“I think we need to have a national and global conversation about the ethics of our vaccinated children, who are at low risk of serious complications from the virus, when there are not enough vaccines in the world to protect them. adults at high risk of death. Said Jennifer B. Nuzzo, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

President Biden is under increasing pressure to hand over part of the country’s vaccine supply. Some federal officials have also urged the administration to decide quickly on how much vaccine is needed, lest doses expire or be shipped to states and not be used. The federal government purchased 700 million doses of three vaccines authorized by the federal government to be delivered by the end of July, well in excess of what would be needed to cover all Americans.

White House officials said last week plans to make up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine available in other countries, provided federal regulators deem the doses safe. The vaccine has yet to receive clearance from US regulators. But global health groups and public health experts said the commitment was not enough.

Dr Rupali J. Limaye, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who studies vaccine use and reluctance, said the United States should donate the excess doses of Pfizer-BioNTech – and everything surplus from other manufacturers – to India and other countries that have experienced severe epidemics and pleaded for help.

“From an ethical standpoint, we shouldn’t prioritize people like them over people in countries like India,” Dr Limaye said of adolescents.

If the United States maintains its supply of Pfizer-BioNTech, she said, it should be reserved for adults as health officials grapple with the phase of the vaccination campaign that requires more personalized local outreach. .

“We still have to go through hesitant adults, while possibly starting simultaneously at 14 or 15,” said Dr Limaye. “But the priority should always be adults.”

The current vaccine supply in the United States is substantial. As of Monday, around 65 million doses had been delivered but not administered, including 31 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, nearly 25 million doses of Moderna and 10 million doses of Johnson & Johnson, according to figures collected by the CDC .

Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses. Pfizer is licensed for ages 16 and over, while Moderna is licensed for ages 18 and over.

Tens of millions of additional doses of Pfizer-BioNTech – worth about three weeks, according to a federal official – have been manufactured and are in various stages of preparation, awaiting final testing before shipping.

Moderna is soon awaiting the results of its own clinical trial involving adolescents aged 12 to 17, followed by results for children 6 months to 12 years later this year.

The clearance from the Food and Drug Administration is likely to drastically allay concerns among middle and high school administrators planning the fall. If students can be vaccinated by then, it could allow for more normal gatherings and allow administrators to plan further into the school year.

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