As federal regulators prepare to authorize use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 15, a top health official said Wednesday that vaccinated individuals in that age group will be able to remove their masks outdoors at camps.
The remarks by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, came after criticism that the agency’s recently issued guidance for campers was needlessly strict. That guidance had said children at camps should be masked except when eating, drinking, napping or swimming.
The Pfizer vaccine is now authorized only for people 16 or older, and the two other vaccines in use now in the United States are limited to those 18 or older. But federal regulators are expected to expand the Pfizer authorization to include adolescents as soon as this week.
Dr. Walenksy said on Wednesday that the agency’s guidance was intended to prevent a repeat of virus outbreaks last year that were traced to summer camps. She said that unvaccinated, unmasked children who engage in close-contact sports like soccer are at risk of transmitting the virus even when outdoors.
no longer need to wear masks outdoors while walking, running, hiking or biking alone, or when in small gatherings with members of their own households. Masks are still necessary in crowded outdoor venues like sports stadiums, the agency said.
If the Food and Drug Administration clears the Pfizer vaccine for broader use, an advisory panel of experts would be expected to meet within a few days to make recommendation to the C.D.C. about whether to go ahead with vaccinating adolescents. The F.D.A. and the C.D.C. have shared responsibility for vaccine use.
White House officials say that the federal government is poised to make shots available for adolescents through pharmacies, pediatricians’ offices and other sites as soon as the health agencies act. “We are prepared to move as quickly as we can after any kind of authorization,” Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said Wednesday.