(NEXSTAR) – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said Thursday that he’s not convinced that COVID-19 vaccines should be required for children to go back to school.
“Whenever you’re talking about requiring something, that’s always a charged issue,” Fauci said on CBS This Morning. “I’m not so sure we should be requiring children at all. We should be encouraging them. But you got to be careful when you make a requirement of something. That usually gets you into a lot of pushback, understandable pushback.”
A government advisory committee recommended Pfizer’s vaccine for children 12 and older on Wednesday after the Food and Drug Administration expanded authorization of the shots to the age group earlier in the week. The vaccine will be available for that age group as early as Thursday.
Fauci sought to ease concerns about side effects of the vaccine, saying “the safety profile is really quite firm and sound,” adding that the vaccine has been administered for nearly a year with “no long-term effects that anyone could notice.”
According to a recent study, 30% of parents of children ages 12-15 said they would get their kids vaccinated right away, 26% said they would wait, 18% said they would get them vaccinated only if it’s a school requirement, and 23% said they “definitely” would not get them vaccinated at all.
Fauci said it’s important that parents are informed. “You don’t want to in any manner or form have the parents feel like they’re doing something wrong by questioning,” he said. “I mean, it’s a perfectly normal thing to be concerned about your children and to question. And that’s the reason why you want to get them as much information as you possibly can and be very open and transparent about the information.”
Though children are at a lower risk than adults of getting seriously ill with the virus, Fauci said, it’s still “very important for children to get vaccinated” because of the instances of serious cases among the age group.
“We are starting to see younger people get into serious trouble, again at a very low rate, but serious trouble,” he said.
He also said young people who are infected can pass the virus on to vulnerable people who are at greater risk for serious cases.
“They could inadvertently and innocently pass the infection on to someone else, perhaps another member of the family who is vulnerable and could get into trouble,” he said.
With the new authorization, pharmacies, state sites, and other places that are already vaccinating people 16 and older with the Pfizer vaccine should be able to give the shots to all authorized ages in most cases.
School districts are also preparing to host vaccination clinics to speed up the campaign. And since parents might feel more comfortable with their pediatricians and primary care doctors, health officials are working to make the shots more widely available at private practices.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.