SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors say the next step in reaching herd immunity is by vaccinating the younger teen population.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize the emergency use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds sometime this week.

“To get into maybe a new normal or go back to our normality before the pandemic, we need to have a vast majority of the population needs to be vaccinated, hence, herd immunity,” Dr. Santiago Lopez, an infectious disease pediatrician with Sanford Health said. “And part of achieving this herd immunity is also vaccinating children.”

“I think it’s a safe vaccine and certainly it’s a next step that we need to take to lower the incidents of coronavirus in the population and it’s one of the things that can be done to hopefully bring us out of this pandemic,” Dr. Rick Kooima, a pediatrician with Avera Medical Group said.

Pfizer enrolled over 2,000 12 to 15-year-olds in their clinical trials to receive the vaccine and be observed for side effects.

“Certainly the FDA looks at specific studies with kids, but they’ve also continued to look at vaccine uptake in adults and side effects that have been seen in adults and we’ve really not seen anything either in young adults, the 16-18 year-olds or the 18-25-year-old’s, that would indicate that there’s any significant safety concerns with the vaccine at this point,” Kooima said.

Both Dr. Kooima and Dr. Lopez say that when the young teen population is vaccinated, hopefully school can return without masks and barriers.

Lopez also says once a person is fully vaccinated, they don’t have to be isolated when exposed to COVID-19. He says that would help kids stay in school.

“And by not missing school, it’s not only the kid now being with their peers and now learning, but it’s also their parents not staying at home and missing days of work,” Lopez said. “So it’s kind of like a domino effect, so I think that’s also why it’s really important — herd immunity and also, I think, back to a normalcy again in this population.”

Kooima says parents should plan ahead when it comes to getting their children the COVID-19 vaccine and their back to school shots before the fall.

“…mainly 12-year old’s with this vaccine, if they’ve not gotten their middle school shots, need those before they start with middle school so either they need to get their middle school shots before they think about getting their coronavirus vaccine, otherwise it might end up kind of pushed towards the end right before they’re starting with middle school.”

Dr. Rick Kooima, pediatrician with Avera Medical Group

Pfizer has started a study on vaccinating children in the age group from six months to 11 years old. However, the pediatricians we talked to said we probably won’t see those ages have access to a vaccine until the fall.

The FDA has allowed the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines under Emergency Use Authorizations, but Pfizer has announced they are applying for full approval of their two-dose vaccine from the FDA.