PROVIDENCE – Dr. Ashish Jha on Tuesday welcomed the FDA’s Monday approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old, declaring that it will keep those who receive it safe while moving the general population closer to population immunity.
The CDC’s COVID vaccine advisory committee is soon expected to follow suit, which means children in this age group should be able to get their first shots within days.
“This is about 16 million people kids,” Jha said while recording the 29th episode of the “COVID: What Comes Next” podcast. “My expectation is that about half to two-thirds will end up getting vaccinated in the first month or two and that will help with population immunity, which is going to be great. Of course, the most important thing is it'll protect them.”
Jha has two daughters in that age group and he said both are “excited” to soon be eligible.
Pediatricians will play a critical role in arranging for vaccinations, said Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health – and also in easing concerns that some parents and guardians may have.
“I'm very comfortable with the safety data, but not everybody's going to be, and [these parents and guardians] should absolutely talk to their pediatrician and have informed conversations from informed experts. I think that's going to make a big difference.”
Jha said that “one challenge” will be getting children to vaccination sites that have the means to store the Pfizer shots at the required frigid temperature. Most pediatricians and primary care providers do not have such refrigeration capabilities in their offices.
“That will present a bit of a barrier,” Jha said. Visiting a site equipped to administer the Pfizer product, he said, “may slow some people down,” but with the Pfizer vaccine in abundant supply and walk-in shots available, that shouldn’t discourage them.
Jha hailed a recent article in Science, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, about scientists who are combing the Brazilian rain forest looking for animal disease that could cross over into humans, as COVID-19 did. One goal is to identify and contain such diseases before they reach people.
“It’s a really important effort” that will be useful in predicting potential outbreaks, Jha said. But as COVID has demonstrated so tragically, he added, “we also still need to be prepared for a virus that we weren't expecting.” That means a global public-health, he said.
Jha also discussed Japan’s planned summer Olympics, saying there is “a theoretical way” to make them safe that involves vaccinations for all participants, officials and others. He has not seen the latest plans, however, and thus could not properly assess them.
The scientist and physician also answered several audience questions during taping of the podcast, available exclusively from The Providence Journal and the USA TODAY NETWORK.
-- A 67-year-old woman with autoimmune disease who was vaccinated yet spent 12 days in the hospital after testing positive for coronavirus disease wrote the podcast stating that “my doctor says I have no vaccine antibodies.” Her question: “Where do I go from here?
Jha expressed his empathy and said “it's not like you have no protection. You have T-cell immunity that kicks in again. I don't know about the autoimmune condition specifically that the person has, but my point is that you still have some degree of protection.”
-- Another listener who is immunocompromised and has been vaccinated asked: “Is there a reliable test to check for vaccine response? It would greatly relieve my anxiety to know I made antibodies.”
Such tests do exist but are experimental, Jha said, “but unless there's a compelling reason, I wouldn't worry about getting tested.”
-- Another listener who wrote that “Dr. Jha tells it like it is, but always injects a ray of hope, even on the darkest days” asked when someone should receive a third or “booster” shot. Some have suggested six months after the second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna products, which would be August for this listener.
Jha’s response: “This has gotten a lot of attention. So I will give you my personal feeling, which is stop thinking about boosters. I have no idea if or when we will need a booster, but I am quite confident that this person will not need one in August… vaccine-induced immunity is quite good.” Jha expects it to last “at least a year but probably longer.” Only time will tell, he said.
-- A fourth listener who tested positive for COVID in March but quickly recovered asked “when can I receive my second Covid vaccine? I have been advised of a timeline of 90 days after positive test results to any time after symptoms disappear.”
Jha said: “I think it's very reasonable to wait 90 days. That’s what I have been saying and what the CDC says as well, and that's where most of us in the public-health and medical communities are. If you want to get it sooner than that you can, but I don't think there's any major advantage.”
To hear Dr. Jha’s full answers to these questions and learn more details about other issues discussed in this 29th episode, please download the podcast at This weekly podcast is hosted by G. Wayne Miller, health reporter for The Providence Journal.