RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Thursday, many 12 to 15-year-olds in Virginia got their first chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

A CDC advisory panel gave Pfizer the green light on Wednesday to expand its existing emergency use authorization to adolescents. That recommendation was adopted by the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health that same day.

Moving forward, this age group will be able to get the vaccine using the same pathways as adults, including mass vaccination sites, retailers and pharmacies. Pfizer is currently the only vaccine that has been authorized for teens 12-17 so parents should keep that in mind while making an appointment.

Starting Friday, Virginia’s Community Vaccination Centers (CVC) will start allowing walk-up appointments for those 12-15 as well. Health officials decided to delay this slightly so that staff had more time to get up to speed.

The state is also in the process of recruiting more pediatricians as providers and coordinating will superintendents to set up school-based clinics before summer starts.

State Superintendent Dr. James Lane said some voluntary clinics should begin next week. He said vaccine mandates are outside of the authority of the Virginia Department of Education and would need to be considered by the CDC, as well as the General Assembly.

“I’ve got to imagine that every school division will at a minimum have some sort of partnership through their local health department or with a pharmacy,” Lane said.

Lane emphasized no shots will be given at school without parental consent. However, unlike other vaccine sites, parents won’t have to be present at school when the vaccine is administered.

Lane said that convenience will be key for low-income students who lack access to transportation. He hopes the effort will also make more families comfortable with in-person learning.

“I think the vaccination will continue to build that confidence well into the fall when all of our school divisions are open 5 days per week,” Lane said.

Virginia’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula has said vaccinating 12 to 15 year-olds is essential for reaching herd immunity and protecting vulnerable adults. He said the state is at 64% of community immunity currently, which is short of their 70-80% target.

Avula has also underlined the individual benefits, emphasizing that fully vaccinated kids don’t have to quarantine or worry about the rare chance of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Pfizer won emergency approval after its clinical trial showed the shots were 100% effective at preventing COVID in this age group.

Gray Neidigh, a 15-year-old from Central Virginia, was one of more than 2,200 participants in that trial.

“You get a boost of confidence and security after getting the vaccine and you definitely feel a lot better,” Neidigh said. “It was very easy and my shoulder didn’t hurt that much after I got it and the second day it hurt a little worse but after that it was fine.” 

A recent VCU survey suggests that a majority of parents in Virginia are on board but many are still hesitant. It found 66% of parents with children age 12 to 17 and 63% of those with children 11 and under are likely to vaccinate their children.

Doctor Romesh Wijesooriya, the Associate Medical Director of Telehealth for VCU Health and Children’s Hospital of Richmond, said the vaccine review process is one of the most well-established and thorough in the medical field. He is confident kids like his 13-year-old son will be safe to get the vaccine.

“I want them to be as safe as possible. I want them to keep the people in their community as safe as possible,” Wijesooriya said. “I believe, wholeheartedly, based on the studies we have done and that have been done, that this is the way to do that.”