Harris Co to start vaccinating kids as young as 12
A student gets his temperature checked by a teacher before entering a summer STEM camp at Wylie High School in Texas. AP / LM Otero.

Harris County will begin vaccinating kids 12 and older for COVID-19 beginning Thursday, the county’s health department said Wednesday.

The news comes on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that the Pfizer vaccine could be used in adolescents.

According to Harris County Public Health, children 12-15 can now receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at NRG Park. Parents or guardians can pre-register their kids to get the vaccine at ReadyHarris.org, or by calling the public health vaccine center at 832-927-8787.

NRG also takes drive-up vaccinations without an appointment noon to 9 p.m., every day.

Parents or guardians who do not accompany their child must sign a parental consent form.

The decision to start vaccinating younger kids adds another 17 million people to the vacine eligibility pool. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 3.85 million U.S. children have tested positive since the start of the pandemic — 12% of all cases — though children are more commonly asymptomatic, and are less likely to see severe illness related to the coronavirus.

Children now account for 22% of all new COVID-19 cases, up from just 3% of U.S. cases last year, according to HCPH.

Following the CDC guidance, the Texas Department of State Health Services recommended adolescents receive the vaccine, and asked Texas providers to begin administering it to kids 12 and up.

The Houston Health Department, which currently only administers the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines approved for people 18 and up, does not have plans to begin vaccinating younger kids, a spokesperson confirmed.

Vaccinating adolescents could put the region and the country closer to the goal of herd immunity. In recent weeks, the pace of vaccinations has slowed across the country — including in Harris County, which saw an unexpected drop in demand.

“It’s tremendously important,” Bill McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center, told Houston Matters host Craig Cohen on Wednesday. “If we really want to see all of our communities return to the freedom we enjoyed before this pandemic, it’s really essential we get our children vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Harris County Public Health has already been administering the Pfizer COVID vaccine to people 16 and older for weeks, both at their public sites and in cooperation with school districts. HCPH has partnered with four school districts in the county to vaccinate, and plans to expand availability based on the updated guidance, according to the agency.

“Throughout the pandemic, adolescents have been more likely to get infected than younger children and more likely than younger children to infect other people,” read a statement from Dr. Maria Rivera, alternate local health authority for Harris County Public Health. “Getting adolescents vaccinated will help stop the spread of the virus and bring the pandemic to an end.”

In addition to Harris County, some hospitals in the Texas Medical Center have also announced their intention to begin vaccinating the younger group. On Wednesday, Baylor College of Medicine announced it had already begun administering doses to kids 12 and older. Houston Methodist Hospital also confirmed it would start vaccinating adolescents, and on Tuesday, Memorial Hermann Health System said it was only awaiting state approval.

More than 480 CVS Pharmacies also announced they would begin taking COVID-19 vaccine appointments for adolescents ages 12 and up beginning Thursday, with parental or legal guardian consent.