Vaccine clinics and pharmacies in Southeast Minnesota began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to adolescents ages 12 to 15 on Thursday.

This comes as nearly half of the new COVID-19 cases last week in Olmsted County were either among or traced to school-age children, said Amy Evans, who is heading Olmsted County Public Health’s vaccination planning.

Dr. Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician at Mayo Clinic, said the clinic strongly urges parents to vaccinate eligible children.

“Until we vaccinate children, we’re not going to achieve the herd immunity we need to knock COVID-19 down from a pandemic status,” he said.

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. Any location that has been distributing the Pfizer vaccine can now provide vaccinations to people as young as 12, as long as they have parental or guardian consent.

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A spokesperson for Hy-Vee confirmed Thursday that vaccinations for that age group began Thursday in Rochester.

Winona Healthcare announced Thursday it expanded its walk-in clinics May 13 and 15 to include people as young as 12 years old, as long as they have parental consent.

Jacobson said another potential obstacle to teens getting vaccinated was removed Wednesday, when the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics lifted a recommendation that children don’t get the COVID-19 vaccine within two weeks of any other vaccination.

So far, no clinics have been scheduled specifically for younger people. However, Jacobson said he would like to see more efforts made to get younger people in to see their primary care physician or vaccination clinics at area schools.

Adolescents are old enough to understand the need for getting the vaccine but might still have apprehension about getting it, he said. Going to a familiar or more private setting could make it more comfortable for them to get the vaccination.

Still, “ideally, we’d love to bring the vaccine into the schools,” he said. “That’s the ideal approach.”

Vaccination clinics have been held at area high schools while people 16 and older have been eligible to get vaccinated.

School-based clinics likely won’t happen until June, if at all, said Olmsted County Public Health officials. The logistics are challenging, they said.

The eligibility for younger people comes as the school year is winding down. Students in the age range also attend school in several different buildings, Evans said. Primary care physicians, pharmacies and Olmsted Medical Center will likely provide the bulk of the first round of vaccinations to eligible young people, she added.

Schools will help health officials let parents know children are eligible and help public health officials spread the word about any upcoming clinics targeted for younger people.

“We’ve found the schools are eager to assist, even after school’s out,” Evans said.

Jacobson said Mayo will work with Public Health to accommodate clinics to reach younger people who might have transportation problems or language barriers. Evans said Public Health has been working with organizations to reach people who have barriers to access the vaccine.

Supply is not expected to be a problem, Evans said, since the supply of vaccine is currently higher than the demand.

“It’s not too late to get a vaccine,” she added.