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R.I. approves Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for teens ahead of FDA authorization

The state also will continue to administer Johnson & Johnson doses, with the health department saying there have not been any reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome in R.I. residents who received that vaccine.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s Vaccine Advisory Subcommittee on Tuesday morning approved a decision to start administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to teenagers as young as 12 years old ahead of federal approval.

The committee also said the state will continue to administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the US Food and Drug Administration on Monday warned can lead to an increased risk of a rare neurological condition known as Guillain–Barré syndrome.

“Any time information like that comes out can effect the uptake in that vaccine,” said Tricia Washburn, chief of immunization within the state’s health department.

Moderna recently applied for emergency use authorization with the FDA to start administering their COVID-19 vaccine to young teenagers. At this time, Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one authorized for use in adolescents as young as 12. Both Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s authorization allow their COVID-19 vaccines to be administered to people age 18 and older.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which is a panel within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scheduled a meeting to discuss the Moderna vaccine for July 22.


Rhode Island’s advisory committee’s vote is a preapproval, so that once the FDA authorizes it, adolescents 12 and older will also be able to receive the Moderna vaccine without the committee having to meet again.

Tuesday’s meeting was the last virtual meeting for the advisory committee, Washburn said, and future meetings will take place in person after the governor’s state of emergency order expires.

Sixty percent of Rhode Islanders over the age of 12 years old have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly 71 percent of Rhode Islanders over the age of 18 years old have been fully vaccinated.

On Monday night the FDA warned that Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine can lead to an increased risk of a rare neurological condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.


Regulators have found that the chances of developing the condition are low as about 100 cases have been identified. However, the cases appear to be three to five times higher among recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine than among the general population in the US.

“We have not had any reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome in people in Rhode Island who received [the] Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the state health department, told the Globe Monday.

However, he said there have been two Rhode Island reports in the national vaccine safety tracking database about Guillain-Barré, one in someone who had previously received the Pfizer vaccine and one in someone who had received the Moderna vaccine.

“There is no indication that the vaccine caused this health issue in these people,” said Wendelken.

In a statement made by the FDA Monday, they said “it is insufficient to establish a causal relationship” between the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and increased risk of Guillain-Barré. But the topic will be discussed during an upcoming ACIP meeting, according to reports.

The vaccine data tracking system collects information about any health issues experienced by the hundreds of millions of people after they are vaccinated to see if any patterns emerge, said Wendelken. Health care providers are required to report into the system, even if they do not think there’s a connection between the vaccine and the issue, Wendelken said.

He said the CDC told states said they expect to see about 1 to 2 cases of Guillain-Barré per 100,000 people.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.