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Infectious disease expert answers questions about the COVID-19 vaccine in 12-15 year olds

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said 12-15 year olds could start getting their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine as early as this weekend.

COLORADO, USA — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) anticipates providers will begin to vaccinate 12-15 year olds this week, but they're waiting for the final green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after Pfizer expanded their emergency use authorization to adolescents on Monday. 

State leaders are expecting to receive that approval sometime Wednesday. 

CDPE spokesperson Jessica Bralish said the state plans to update its website and begin offering vaccine appointments as soon as they have additional information from the CDC. 

RELATED: Pfizer vaccine likely available for children ages 12 to 15 this weekend in Colorado

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Children are not considered high risk for severe cases of COVID-19, but that doesn't mean complications aren't possible. 

"We tend to see more infections and more severe infections in older adults, but it is important to recognize that kids can get infected with COVID-19," said Dr. Suchitra Rao, an infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado.

We talked to Rao about vaccine effectiveness for that age group and what parents should know. Read a Q&A below. 

(Editors Note: Some answers may have been edited for clarity.)

9NEWS: Why is it important to vaccinate 12 - 15 year olds if they are not considered high risk for severe cases of COVID-19?

Dr. Rao: One of the things that we’ve noticed with the number of COVID-19 infections recently in the U.S. is that one in five children are actually contributing to infections. 

Of the kids that can get more ill, what we’ve seen is that those who are younger than the age of one and teenagers are the ones that are more likely to end up in the hospital with COVID-19. 

Even though it’s very rare, we have been seeing very dangerous complications of COVID-19 called MIS-C or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children. It's really important to think about vaccinations because 12 - 15 age group is the age group that's at risk for getting MIS-C as well.

How effective is the Pfizer vaccine for kids in this age group?

Dr. Rao: What we know from the studies in kids in the 12-15 year old [age group] is that the vaccine was able to prevent infection in 100% of the cases. Over 2,000 children were involved in the trial, 1,000 kids got the vaccine, 1,000 got the placebo. Zero children who received the vaccine got infected with COVID-19. 

Their antibody production was really high and that's a really good indicator of a strong immune response.

Did any of the children who participated in the trial report side effects?

Dr. Rao: The things that were reported were very similar to what we heard from those adult studies. The majority of kids ended up with headaches, some pain at the site of the injection, a little bit of fatigue, that tends to last between one to three days, but then went away. 

There were really no issues of safety issues or adverse events after receiving this vaccine.

Are there currently children in the hospital with COVID-19?

Dr. Rao: We do have a number of children who are admitted to the hospital with COVID-19. What we’ve been noticing more recently is there seems to be a higher proportion of kids that end up in the ICU, so for example we’ve had up to 50% of kids in the hospital who were in the intensive care unit. 

People are still speculating about why we might be seeing this. We are seeing a big vaccinated adult population, so is that why we're seeing a higher proportion in kids? Does it have to do with some of these variants? We’re starting to see a little bit of a signal that they may be the case but I think we still need to get more data and more of an understanding of why that might be occurring.

What do we know about vaccine efficacy in regards to COVID-19 variants?

Dr. Rao: The most predominant variant that we’re seeing right now is the B.1.1.7, which is the one that originated in the U.K. The good news there is that current vaccines are effective against that variant and there’s some data saying it’s a little bit less effective with the variants that originated in Brazil and South Africa, but we're still seeing good protection.

Children's Hospital Colorado said parents can register their children 12 and older to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, they will not begin receiving invitations to make appointments until final recommendations are adopted by the CDC.

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