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Fauci says "we should be encouraging" kids to get vaccinated, but requiring it is "debatable"

Dr. Fauci on vaccinating kids over age 12
Dr. Fauci on what to consider when deciding whether to vaccinate kids over 12 05:53

Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging parents to get their kids vaccinated against COVID-19 — but stopped short of saying they should be a requirement for going back to school.

"Whenever you're talking about requiring something, that's always a charged issue. So I'm not so sure we should be requiring children at all," President Biden's chief medical adviser said on "CBS This Morning" Thursday. "We should be encouraging them."

All 12- to 15-year-olds nationwide are now eligible to get Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the way Wednesday. The drugmaker says its vaccine was 100% effective in its trial for this age group. 

A recent poll found that 30% of parents said they would get kids in that age group vaccinated right away — but 23% said they would definitely pass.

Grades K-12 schools are not a significant source of COVID-19 transmissions within their communities, according to CDC data, and numerous schools around the country have already reopened for in-person learning. But that has not stopped debates over whether those schools should require students returning in the fall to be vaccinated.

Fauci acknowledged the topic was "debatable," but fears the rule may do more harm than good.

"You've got to be careful when you make the requirement of something, that usually gets you into a lot of pushback — understandable pushback," he warned.

However, he did say it was "very important" that kids did get the vaccine when they can — and that cases of young people getting "into serious trouble" with the virus are rare but possible.

"At a very low rate — but serious trouble," he said.

Since the pandemic, some hospitals around the country have opened pediatric COVID "long hauler" units for children who experience symptoms weeks or even months after their infection. 

"The other aspect of it that they need to understand, is that when children get infected — even though they may not, in fact, get serious illness — they could inadvertently and innocently pass the infection on to someone else, perhaps another member of the family who is vulnerable and could get in trouble," Fauci said.

The medical expert also offered some optimistic news for Americans of all ages.

"If you were vaccinated, you don't have to wear a mask outside," Fauci said. "If you were going into a completely crowded situation where people are essentially falling all over each other, then you wear a mask. But any other time, if you're vaccinated and you're outside, put aside your mask. You don't have to wear it."

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