State officials are now encouraging high schoolers age 16 and older to get COVID-19 vaccinations.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson urged eligible teenagers to get vaccinated, stating that vaccines were available if schools wanted to make them available. “It is important for those 16-plus to get vaccinated, which means that some of those that are eligible to be vaccinated are still in high school. We have vaccines that are available. We want to utilize those in the schools that want to make sure that the students have vaccines available to them,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson opened vaccine eligibility to all Arkansans age 16 and up on March 30. Opening up eligibility, he said at the time, was designed to spur demand for the vaccine in Arkansas. We’re opening it up because we want to make sure we maximize every opportunity to get this life-saving vaccine into the arms of Arkansans and to accelerate that to the extent that we can,” he said.
With less than two months remaining in the school year, Hutchinson urged schools to begin making vaccinations available for the eligible students as part of a pilot vaccination program. By fall 2021, Hutchinson hopes that U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 12 and up, which he said would allow for a “comprehensive vaccination program” for students.
Pfizer and BioNTech have already launched a clinical trial studying the effect of the vaccine on children age 12 to 15. In late March 2021, the companies announced that the vaccine was safe and 100 percent effective for adolescents after testing 2,260 individuals. Pfizer is submitting its data to the FDA to request emergency authorization for the vaccine for this age group.
Arkansas Department of Education Secretary Johnny Key concurred with Hutchinson, noting that it was critical to provide opportunities for educational stakeholders to have access to vaccines.
“It’s very important that we consider the eligibility of those that are 16 and over and the opportunities that we might have in our schools to administer vaccines to those students who are eligible. That is something that we will be working with the Health Department, with physician groups, primary care physician and pediatricians and our school districts to help set up these opportunities because if we can get more of these students their vaccinations – both of their doses of their vaccines, Dr. Romero – before school’s out, it will help the stage for a good summer and returning to school in the fall,” he said.