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Another 27,000 in Spokane County will be able to get the coronavirus vaccine after CDC approval for ages 12 to 15

UPDATED: Wed., May 12, 2021

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

Later this week, 378,000 more Washington residents will likely be eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, including some 27,000 in Spokane County.

A federal committee approved the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds on Wednesday, and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup was reviewing the data Wednesday evening. The group is expected to authorize the vaccine for use in this age group very soon.

In Spokane County, 26,920 more kids and teenagers will be eligible to get vaccinated when Washington health officials authorize it, and school districts are preparing to start vaccinating them as early as Friday.

Once vaccines are approved in Washington state for kids 12 and older, the Department of Health anticipates releasing guidance that allows for full in-person instruction, with a virtual option as well, in addition to maintaining masking, distancing and hygiene practices.

Additionally, the Department of Health is expanding its testing programs to school districts, with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, the department is supporting about 100 school districts with testing and will continue to expand that program in the coming school year.

“We’re really excited that the 2021-2022 school year can look a bit more normal,” Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary at the state health department, told reporters Wednesday.

Area health officials encouraged parents to take their kids to get vaccinated if they are eligible.

State health officials have shifted vaccine supplies to meet the demand statewide. There are 650,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the state currently, and the state’s vaccine locator is now optimized to search by vaccine type.

In certain communities, shipments of the Pfizer vaccine will likely be broken up among several providers.

Dr. Gretchen LaSalle, a local family physician, addressed some of the most common questions her patients have about the vaccines for their children.

While COVID-19 is not as severe in children, that does not mean younger teens are not transmitting the disease. In fact, data shows the contrary is true. In the past month, 25% of confirmed cases in Spokane County are in residents 19 and under.

“Even though they tend to suffer less severe consequences when they have a COVID infection, they still can suffer severe consequences,” LaSalle said.

Being in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 means a student has to be taken out of school and their social environment for at least a week. Outbreaks among sports teams can bench students who want to play sports.

Additionally, COVID-19 has caused a rare syndrome, called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, in a handful of children who have contracted the virus. When a child with COVID-19 develops MIS, they could be hospitalized or require intensive care. As of March 31, there have been 47 confirmed cases of MIS in Washington state kids and teens, including two cases in Spokane County.

So far in the pandemic, 53 Spokane County kids and teens 19 and younger have been hospitalized due to COVID-19, and there have been three deaths due to COVID-19 in county residents ages 10 to 19.

LaSalle also addressed concerns she has heard from parents about the vaccine potentially causing infertility. She pointed to clinical trials for the Pfizer vaccine, which had participants who got pregnant during the trials in both the placebo and vaccinated groups.

“This is not a concern,” she said.

Additionally, pregnant women who have had COVID-19 or have been vaccinated are passing antibodies on to their newborns through breastfeeding, according to initial research on the topic.

Here’s a look at local numbers:

The Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 109 new cases and two additional deaths Wednesday.

There have been 625 deaths due to COVID-19 confirmed in Spokane County residents.

There are 90 patients being treated for the virus in Spokane hospitals.

The Panhandle Health District confirmed 54 new cases and one additional death Wednesday.

There have been 304 deaths due to COVID-19 in Panhandle residents.

There are 22 Panhandle residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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