Face masks. Photo: Chas Hundley

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in those ages 12 - 15 Monday. Previously, the vaccine had only been approved for those ages 16 and above. 

The emergency use approval doesn’t mean that the vaccine will go into immediate use for those ages 12 to 15; first, an advisory board to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must meet to vote whether to recommend the vaccine’s use for adolescents. 

An emergency meeting has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday, April 12, where the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, known as ACIP, will determine whether or not to recommend to the CDC the new age range for the Pfizer vaccine. 

In Oregon, the decision to use the vaccine for the new age bracket will follow the ACIP meeting after the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup (WSSSRW) — a consortium of health professionals from Oregon, Washington, California, and Nevada — meets to discuss the findings of the advisory committee.

"Our recommendation is that all eligible people in Oregon get vaccinated, and that, until we have sufficient numbers vaccinated, everyone follow public health safety guidance," the OHA said in a statement following the news from the FDA.

“Today’s action allows for a younger population to be protected from COVID-19, bringing us closer to returning to a sense of normalcy and to ending the pandemic,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. in a press release. “Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations.”

According to CDC data, around 1.5 million COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the U.S. for those 11 to 17 years of age since March 1 2020 through April 30, 2021. 

The news comes as Oregon loosens some restrictions on indoor dining, gyms, and other businesses and gathering places. According to the most recently available data from the Oregon Health Authority, 46.5% of Oregonians have received at least one dose of one of the three vaccines approved for emergency use, while 34.4% have been fully vaccinated. 

If recommended for use on Wednesday, those age 12 and up will be eligible for the vaccine, which could decrease instances of COVID-19 spread in schools, youth groups, and other youth-oriented activities.

Demand for vaccines in Oregon and elsewhere in the U.S. has plummeted, leading many vaccine clinics, once tightly controlled by appointment only and by phased eligibility, to open their doors to walk-in vaccine availability to everyone age 16 and older for the Pfizer vaccine or 18 and older for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. 

Locally, a Moderna clinic for those age 18 and up in Hillsboro on Tuesday, May 11 at the Hillsboro Senior Center (750 SE 8th Ave.) will accept walk-ins from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

Those who are vaccinated at that event will be scheduled for their second dose on June 8. 

As of April 27, pharmacies are required to offer the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to those who want one regardless of if they received their first dose at the pharmacy. 

The Oregon Convention Center (777 NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard), a streamlined facility in Portland, is offering walk-in vaccines in May, but will cease offering first doses after May, allowing only second doses to recipients in June. 

More information about finding a vaccine in Washington County is available at the Washington County Health and Human Services website