By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota is in a “much better place” to provide vaccine in a timely manner to kids 12 to 15 years old who are on the brink of being able to get Pfizer doses, a top state health official says.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday gave the green light for emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in kids as young as 12 and it’s expected to get final approval from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel Wednesday, clearing the path for nearly 300,000 more Minnesotans to get the vaccine.

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Vaccinations can begin as early as Thursday, though Minnesota Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann cautioned that not every single person newly eligible will be able to get their shot the very day they are allowed.

“Not everyone can be first but we’re in a much better place to be able to provide vaccines,” Ehresmann told WCCO in an interview Tuesday.

She said the state gets about 80,000 doses of Pfizer per week and has already flagged those doses for providers ahead of this announcement. If every single one of the roughly 291,000 Minnesota kids in the 12 to 15 age group got their shot, it would take a few weeks to get everyone their first doses.

There is availability right now for adults at state community vaccination sites, pharmacies, local public health departments and private health care providers.

Kids should be able to get access wherever Pfizer vaccines are available, Ehresmann said. Some providers might start shots later this week but others may wait for official written guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, which she expects will come Friday.

“When we initially started vaccinating, supply was a big concern, but that’s not the concern now,” Ehresmann said. “We do have the ability to request additional doses from the federal government beyond our allocation as well.”

Several parents told WCCO that they are excited that their younger children, previously unable to get protection by vaccination, will soon be eligible.

Gretchen Haynes of Eden Prairie said she has been waiting patiently for this moment to get her 11- and 12-year-old kids vaccinated. The FDA’s approval granted the wish for her son Nick, who is 12 and scheduled for his shot on Friday at a clinic at Valley View Middle School in Edina. The pop-up at the school’s gym is already full, according to the school’s website. The district says it will be kind of like picture day: if they opt in and have their permission slip, students will go to the gym to get their first dose.

The variants and the reluctance of some adults to get inoculated adds urgency to allowing more kids into the eligible population, she said.

“Without all adults getting the vaccine, it reduces the odds of us getting herd immunity,” Haynes said. “So that made it even more important that I get my children the vaccine as soon as possible.”

Belle Larson, her husband and their 16-year-old son have COVID-19 vaccines. Next in line? Her 14-year-old son Collin and 12-year-old son John.

“They are so excited to be able to have vaccinations for this,” Larson said.

But like many parents, she still has questions.

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“I really wanna know whether or not this is gonna be on the kids’ vaccine schedule from now on,” Larson said.

That’s where Patsy Stinchfield comes in. She’s the senior director of infection control at Children’s Minnesota.

“I’m saying vaccinate to celebrate,” Stinchfield said.

She will actually be on the CDC call Wednesday advising the people who will approve or deny Pfizer vaccines for 12 to 15 year olds.

“We really don’t want to see any more kids in our ICU because this vaccine is so effective,” Stinchfield said.

She says trials showed Pfizer was 100% effective in preventing COVID-19 in 12 to 15 year olds. They will get the same dosage as adults, and side effects are believed to be similar. Though getting it out will be easier because supply is strong

“We are reaching out to those who have high-risk conditions for COVID by text, our children of color by text as well,” Stinchfield said.

So will it be required? Stinchfield said private schools, camps or businesses could mandate it — but not the state or public schools for now.

“Every state has a different school entry law. If we were going to require COVID, it would be written into that state law,” she said.

Children’s Minnesota will vaccinate about 1,500 young people in their auditorium this weekend if it gets approved. They will also vaccinate at some local middle schools.

Ehresmann said the state health department welcomes the news as Minnesota races to get as many people vaccinated as possible. But it doesn’t change benchmarks to lift more COVID-19 restrictions in the state. The mask mandate will still only lift if 70% of Minnesotans 16 or older have at least one shot or on July 1, whichever comes sooner.

Right now, 60% of that population has at least one dose, according to state data.

“We are very pleased,” Ehresmann said of the announcement. “Both because it allows us to get a greater proportion of our population protected against COVID and because we know that kids have really suffered a lot during COVID. They’ve had to miss out on a lot of things important and meaningful to them.”

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Almost 90% of Minnesotans ages 65 and older have had at least one dose of the vaccine. The Minnesota Department of Health says more than 60% of those ages 16 and up have at least one shot.