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Washington health leaders urge patience as they await Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to be OK'd for teens

The FDA’s emergency use authorization is one of three hurdles standing in the way of administering COVID-19 vaccines to kids 12 and up in Washington state.

SEATTLE — While parents across the state work to get COVID-19 vaccines for their teenagers, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is asking people to be patient as they wait for further guidance. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expanded the emergency use authorization for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for kids between the ages of 12 and 15 this week. But the DOH is waiting for similar guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup before giving their blessing to local providers to start administering doses to teens.

Decisions from both of those groups are expected to come as early as Wednesday. 

Some clinics in western Washington are already offering appointments for teens later this week in anticipation of the vaccine being given the green light. And one Seattle clinic has already started to get shots into arms. 

Officials with the DOH told KING 5 that while there is no penalty for vaccinating those 12 and up now, insurance may not cover the administration fee. 

"We want people to be patient," said Dr. Umair Shah, secretary of health for the state. "We certainly don’t want to jump the gun here. As soon as this gets approved, then the website will change and we’ll start to see those providers being able to proceed with vaccines to those 12 and up."

However, accessibility to the vaccine may not be as easy as parents may think. 

"Many small offices or private practices are not giving this vaccine right now," said Dr. Elizabeth Meade, who is the president of Washington’s chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said many local providers may not have the ability to safely store vaccine doses. 

"The places that kids might be able to access them now are at the mass vaccine sites and pharmacies and other places of that nature," said Meade. 

Meanwhile, school districts across Washington state are developing plans to hold clinics where teens can receive the vaccine. 

"There's a lot of focus now on ensuring before the kids are out for school, that different partners across the county will be going to the high school and middle school campuses to reach those kids where they are," said Ingrid Ulrey, a vaccine strategist for Public Health - Seattle & King County. 

She stressed the importance of starting the process before the end of the school year, "so we can ensure they get that first dose and then get the second dose three weeks later before school's out for summer."