Why COVID-19 Vaccines for Teens Are More Important Than Ever

A young Black man in a face mask getting a vaccine.


Key Takeaways

  • The rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations for teens has been on the rise since this spring.
  • New variants of the COVID virus are putting unvaccinated people at an even greater risk of getting sick.
  • With the Pfizer vaccine approved for use in teens, vaccination is more important than ever.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the number of teens hospitalized with COVID-19 rose in April after showing a sharp decline in March.  

According to COVID-NET—which tracks COVID-19-associated hospitalizations in the 14 states that participate in the Emerging Infections Program—hospitalizations in teens ages 12 to 17 spiked to 1.3 per 100,000 people in April (up from 0.6 in March).

Of the teens hospitalized during that time, 5% needed mechanical ventilation. No adolescent deaths were reported during that period.

Maggie Park, MD

The vaccines are effective and can protect our teens from having to go through a difficult course if they were to contract the virus.

— Maggie Park, MD

“The national increase in adolescent hospitalizations for COVID-19 is a concerning trend and we will continue to follow our local data closely,” Maggie Park, MD, county public health officer for San Joaquin County in California, tells Verywell.

Park says that the report from the CDC “gives us even more impetus to vaccinate as many eligible people aged 12 and above, as soon as we can. The vaccines are effective and can protect our teens from having to go through a difficult course if they were to contract the virus.”

How Effective Are Vaccines?

On May 10, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to be used in adolescents aged 12 to 15.

The approval was both a step to end the pandemic in the U.S. as well as to provide protection for young people against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants. 

In its clinical trial report, Pfizer demonstrated that its COVID-19 vaccination was 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations. It also was shown to produce a robust antibody response in teens and adults.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll conducted in May, 41% of adolescents in the U.S. (about 7 million teenagers) have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. In 16 states, the vaccination rate among teens has reached 30% or more.

Protection Against Variants

In recent weeks, emerging variants of the COVID virus have reaffirmed the urgency of getting teens vaccinated. In the United Kingdom, the Delta variant (B1617.2)—which originated in India—is now responsible for more than 60% of COVID-19 cases—especially in young people ages 12 to 20.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, sounded the alarm during a White House press briefing on June 8, saying, “We cannot let that happen in the United States.… To get vaccinated, particularly if you’ve had your first dose, make sure you get that second dose. And for those who have [not been] vaccinated yet, please get vaccinated. This is the national month of action.”

Vaccines Work

During the White House briefing on June 8, Fauci pointed out that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 88% effective against the Delta variant—as long as a person receives both doses. The vaccine is only 33% effective against the variants after the first dose, which highlights why that second dose is so important.

President Joe Biden emphasized the risk posed by the Delta variant in a tweet on June 8.

Why Teens Need to Get Vaccinated

As more of the adult population has become fully vaccinated, the pandemic's grip on the U.S. has started to loosen. We still have a long way to go, and getting young people vaccinated will be crucial to getting us there.

Ugur Sahin, the CEO and the co-founder of BioNTech said in a press release, “The initial results we have seen in the adolescent studies suggest that children are particularly well protected by vaccination.… It is very important to enable them to get back to everyday school life and to meet friends and family while protecting them and their loved ones.”

While COVID-19 symptoms appear to be less severe in children, there is still a risk of hospitalization for people of any age with underlying chronic medical conditions.

Teens and adults are at an increased risk if they have:

  • Diabetes
  • Asthma 
  • Metabolic conditions
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Heart disease 
  • Immunosuppression 
  • Obesity

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, over 4 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 with only 1.9% of those resulting in hospitalization. However, the report indicates that more research is needed to evaluate the long-term physical and mental health effects that the COVID virus has had on children.

In the meantime, experts agree that reducing hospitalizations related to COVID is paramount. On June 4, CDC director Rochelle P. Walensky said that she is “deeply concerned by the numbers of hospitalized adolescents and saddened to see the number of adolescents who required treatment in intensive care units or mechanical ventilation. Much of this suffering can be prevented.”

What This Means For You

Vaccination is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in light of the new variants. In the U.S., youth ages 12 to 17 can now get vaccinated.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Havers FP, Whitaker M, Self JL, et al. Hospitalization of adolescents aged 12–17 years with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 — COVID-NET, 14 states, March 1, 2020–April 24, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70(23):851-857. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7023e1

  2. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: FDA authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in adolescents in another important action in fight against pandemic.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE): Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

  4. Kaiser Family Foundation. KFF COVID-19 vaccine monitor.

  5. New York Times. Eager teens give needed boost to U.S. vaccination campaign.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). COVID-19 in children and teens.

  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Children and COVID-19: state-level data report.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Statement from CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH.

By Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN
Amy Isler, RN, MSN, CSN, is a registered nurse with over six years of patient experience. She is a credentialed school nurse in California.