RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Health officials say parents planning to get their 16 or 17 year old child vaccinated soon should pay close attention when they’re scheduling a vaccine appointment.
The whole state of Virginia is expected to open vaccine eligibility to Phase 2 by April 18.
In parts of the state, some teens are getting turned away from their vaccine appointments because they’ve signed up for vaccine not yet approved for them.
It’s happened to a handful of Phase 1 eligible teens here in the Richmond area, according to the health district’s Cat Long. Right now, only the Pfizer vaccine is approved by the federal government for children 16 and 17. All three vaccines, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer are approved for adults 18 and older.
According to Long, a handful of teens aged 16 or 17 have shown up to their vaccine appointments scheduled to get the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“We have someone checking to make sure that teens don’t get through if there isn’t a Pfizer vaccine available to them,” she said. Long said a flaw in the registration portal that Richmond and Henrico uses, VAMS, can leave the teens with appointments for a vaccine other than Pfizer.
“If they’re not aware that they only qualify for Pfizer, they could accidentally sign up for a Johnson & Johnson appointment or for a Moderna vaccine appointment,” she told 8News.
Long says the system shows eligible Virginians the same vaccines available regardless of the person’s age. “Parents, take a look at the link that your child is sent. Make sure that you choose a Pfizer,” Long said.
The same issue was reported in Virginia Beach recently by The Virginian Pilot. Children 16 and 17 years old were able to make appointments for any available vaccine there too.
It’s a system flaw Long says they’re hoping to fix before Phase 2 begins locally.
“We’re exploring right now how to use the VAMS system in a way that we can set 16 and 17 year olds for success in registering them for the right vaccine appointments,” she said. “So that way we don’t have to turn anyone away at the door.”
Health officials say the other two vaccines are very likely safe for those older teens. However, there’s just not enough evidence to give the green light for children under 18 years old.
The Virginia Department of Health released the following statement on the matter Thursday:
The only COVID-19 vaccine that is approved for persons ages 16 years through 17 years of age is Pfizer-BioNTech. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved for persons ages 18 years of age and older, though Moderna is conducting tests to determine the vaccine’s efficacy for persons ages 12 years through 17 years. Neither J&J nor Moderna should be available as vaccine options for 16- and 17-year-olds registering for a vaccine now, as a member of the Phase 1b eligibility group of ages 16 years through 64 years with underlying conditions nor in Phase 2 when eligibility opens to all persons ages 16 years and older. This would be an issue that would need to be addressed at the local health district level.