California expanded eligibility for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to 12 to 15-year-olds last month after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) vaccine safety review panel and the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup recommended that the vaccine is safe and effective in protecting this age group against severe illness, hospitalization and death. In the weeks since the eligibility expansion, approximately 27.5 percent of 12 to 15-year-olds have received at least one dose.

“The past year has been hard on all of us, but especially difficult for our teens who have had to put their lives on hold. Now that eligibility has expanded, we can confidently give our kids a shot at being kids again with the comfort of knowing they are protected from COVID-19,” wrote California State Epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan in a recent California Department of Public Health column. “When more Californians become vaccinated, we can feel safer as restrictions are lifted and life begins to return to a sense of normalcy. When 12 to 15-year-olds are vaccinated, families can be safer as they venture out more, go on vacations and get back to doing the things they love.”

In the column, Pan addresses potential questions and concerns teens and their parents or guardians may have about the vaccine. Pan explains that clinical trials have proven the vaccine to be safe and effective for youth in this age group, and that the technology used to make the vaccine has been developed over the last 20 years. Vaccinated individuals may experience mild side effects such as a sore arm, fever or fatigue.

A parent of two eligible adolescents, Pan discusses the stress and isolation youth have experienced due to the pandemic, and how getting vaccinated is a critical step to getting back to our normal lives, including more opportunities to safely spend time with friends and family.

Pan also highlights the state’s new $116.5 million Vax for the Win incentive program, in which all Californians who have had at least one COVID-19 dose – including youth – are eligible to receive $50 prepaid or grocery cards and are entered into randomized cash prize drawings. A total of 30 winners will receive $50,000, and on June 15, 10 will win $1.5 million as the state fully reopens. The first round of drawings awarded $750,000.

Pan underscores the state’s work to ensure equitable access to the vaccine, including partnerships with local health departments, community-based organizations and school districts to reach underserved youth in foster care or those experiencing homelessness, as well as efforts to improve access in rural communities through mobile clinics, free transportation and more. Vaccines are free, including for those who don’t have health insurance and regardless of immigration status.

To promote easy access, the administration established a portal where schools and other community sites can request support to set up mobile and pop-up clinics. Schools – especially larger districts – can also become providers by following the steps outlined here and in a school-specific recorded webinar. For resources to support outreach, schools and other community organizations can access the messaging toolkit.

Parents, legal guardians or emancipated young people can check vaccine availability and book an appointment at MyTurn.ca.gov or by calling California’s COVID-19 Hotline at (833) 422-4255. They can also contact their family doctor, local community health clinic or public health office for more information.

Report possible vaccine incentive scams via email: rumors@cdph.ca.gov or call the Vax for the Win incentives hotline at (833) 993-3873.