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These long-awaited milestones could soon return as more young Americans get vaccinated, CDC director says

Americans could soon see milestones like a full return to in-person classrooms now that Covid-19 vaccinations are open to young teens, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“I think we should be five days a week everybody present in school in the fall,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “I think we will be in a place in this pandemic that we will be able to do that. I think we should all be leaning in.”

The likelihood is high, Walensky stressed, especially considering the high percentage of educators who are vaccinated as well as the recent recommendation by the CDC to open vaccines up to children as young as 12.

Health experts have pointed to vaccinations as the key to returning to a sense of normalcy. And though officials are coming up against a significant vaccine hesitancy, the percentage of the vaccinated population is still growing. About 45% of US adults are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to data published Wednesday by the CDC. And in 15 states, that number is more than half.

The CDC is still waiting for more data to ensure vaccines work against variants, which experts have said they likely do. And Walensky predicted that “very soon” the CDC could be lifting indoor mask mandates for vaccinated people.

Some places are already moving in that direction. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that when the state fully reopens next month, it will do away with outdoor mask guidelines.

In Denver, indoor masks are no longer required if the person can show proof of vaccination, according to a revised public health order.

Masks are still required for children indoors and at “grocery stores, large retail stores, childcare centers, schools, hospitals, indoor camps, nursing homes, jails, larger government facilities, and on airplanes, buses, and trains,” the order says.

Pediatricians urge teens to get vaccinated

Although adolescents were not classified in the most at-risk group when Covid-19 broke out, officials say it is crucial for them to be vaccinated.

Though not as commonly severe as its impact on older populations, the virus can still be dangerous to teens. More adolescents have been hospitalized for severe coronavirus disease than are usually hospitalized for influenza, the CDC said Wednesday.

“Adolescents 12 to 17 years of age are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19,” CDC’s Dr. Sara Oliver told a meeting of CDC’s outside vaccine advisers. “There have been over 1.5 million reported cases and over 13,000 hospitalizations to date among adolescents 12 to 17 years.”

And children and teens are starting to make up a larger proportion of coronavirus cases, Oliver said.

“In April, 9% of cases were aged 12-17 years, which actually represents a larger proportion of cases than adults 65 and older,” she told the meeting. “However, we note that diagnosed and reported cases are an underestimate.”

CVS pharmacies will begin administering the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to people as young as 12 beginning Thursday, the company said.

Teens should get their vaccines as soon as possible, even at the same time as routine childhood vaccinations, the American Academy of Pediatrics said Wednesday.

“This is truly an exciting development that allows us to protect a large population of children and help them regain their lives after a really rough year,” AAP President Dr. Lee Savio Beers said in a statement.

“As a pediatrician and a parent, I have looked forward to getting my own children and patients vaccinated, and I am thrilled that those ages 12 and older can now be protected. The data continue to show that this vaccine is safe and effective. I urge all parents to call their pediatrician to learn more about how to get their children and teens vaccinated.”

The data behind the protection

Health experts have combated some vaccine hesitancy by citing growing evidence of their safety and efficacy.

Vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer continue to be more than 90% effective, based on various studies, a CDC official said Wednesday.

A review of the efficacy of mRNA vaccines — those that use messenger RNA to deliver immunity — shows two doses provide strong immunity in a variety of groups, Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra of CDC’s respiratory diseases branch told a meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Vaccination of younger and pre-teens provides far more benefits than harm, Oliver said.

Not only do the vaccinations protect against severe illness in adolescents and the ongoing medical complications that could accompany infection, but they protect the adults in the household. Meanwhile, clinical trials for the vaccine in adolescents showed efficacy over 100% and presented no serious adverse events, Oliver said.

And though Johnson & Johnson came under scrutiny over rare blood clots linked to the vaccine, data from the CDC also shows that its benefits outweigh its risks.

The chances that a person vaccinated with the J&J vaccine will develop a rare and specific type of blood clot are less than 1 in 300,000, according to CDC data. But in the past two months, about 1 in every 7,600 Americans has died of Covid-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That is more than 40 times the number of people who reported blood clots.

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