JONESBORO, AR – As a physician, parent and medical leader, Dr. Shane Speights was thrilled with this week’s announcement that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine would be made available to those age 12-15. Friday morning, Speights’ 13-year-old son Parker was among the first in line when St. Bernards Medical Center began offering the vaccine to those in the newly-approved age group.
“I’m fully confident in the safety and efficacy of this vaccine, so much so that I’ve made it a priority to get each of my children vaccinated as soon as they were eligible,” said Speights, who serves as the dean of New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University and medical director for the City of Jonesboro.
“As a parent, I’m so grateful that another one of my children is one step closer to being protected from this awful virus. As a physician, I’m excited that this new group of individuals have access to the vaccine so we as a society can take another big step toward ending this pandemic.”
As soon as the FDA, CDC and Arkansas Department of Health approved the vaccine eligibility extension this week, Speights contacted St. Bernards to get the first available appointment for his son. Prior to this week, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been approved to those age 16 and up. On Monday, the FDA approved the companies’ request to make their vaccine available to those age 12-15. Wednesday afternoon, the CDC gave its approval to extend eligibility, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices endorsed the move as well.
The new directives came after the publication and review of a clinical trial that included more than 2,000 children age 12-15. According to the CDC, there were no serious adverse events associated with those who received the vaccine in the trial.
“The data is extremely strong,” Speights said. “The technology is incredible. This vaccine for adults is about 95% effective in preventing contraction, and it’s almost 100% effective in preventing severe illness and hospitalization. The data for those aged 12-15 showed 100% efficacy in preventing illness. This is more evidence that they’re safe and they work.”
Speights said he understands why parents – even ones who have received the vaccine themselves – may be hesitant to have their children immunized against COVID-19. However, he urges people of all ages to trust the science and understand how important it is for people to protect themselves and their families.
“Historically, it is has been much less common for young people to get really sick if they contract COVID, but now we are seeing a shift,” Speights said. “With new variants circulating in our country and state, they seem to hit children and young adults harder than the original strain. As a parent and a doctor, those are risks I’m just not willing to take. That’s why I’ve made it a priority for my family to be vaccinated and I encourage everyone to do so as well.”
When asked about how he feels to be getting the vaccine, Parker replied, “I’m excited to finally be able to get it.”
Speights is confident that vaccines will allow our children to return to their “pre-pandemic” routines.
“As much as we’ve all been impacted by this pandemic, some of the most difficult challenges have come to the educational system,” Speights said. “It’s safe to say that we all want our kids to have a ‘normal’ school year this fall after dealing with restrictions for over a year now. Vaccines are the way that we can ensure that. They’re what will allow us to loosen guidelines and get back to life as we knew it prior to 2020.”