The United States is urging everyone aged 12 and up to get a COVID-19 booster as soon as they are eligible to help fight the highly contagious omicron mutant that is sweeping the country.
Boosters were already recommended for all 16- and 17-year-olds, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed an additional Pfizer shot for younger teens — those aged 12 to 15 — and strengthened its recommendation for 16- and 17-year-olds.
The CDC’s director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said in a statement Wednesday night, “It is critical that we protect our children and teens from COVID-19 infection and the complications of severe disease.”
“With this booster dose, you’ll get the best protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.” “I encourage all parents to follow the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations for their children,” she said.
Vaccines continue to provide effective protection against serious illness caused by any type of COVID-19, including omicron, according to experts. The newest mutant, on the other hand, can get past a layer of vaccine protection and cause milder infections. According to studies, a booster dose boosts virus-fighting antibodies to levels that give the best chance of avoiding symptomatic infection, even from omicron.
The CDC‘s independent scientific advisers debated whether a booster should be an option for younger teens, who are less likely to get sick from COVID-19 than adults or should be strongly recommended.
Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel University, a CDC adviser, cautioned that giving teens a booster for a temporary boost in infection protection is like playing whack-a-mole. The extra shot, she said, was worth it to help push back the omicron mutant and protect kids from missing school and other issues that come with even a mild case of COVID-19.
More importantly, the impact “is absolutely crushing” if a child with a mild infection spreads it to a more vulnerable parent or grandparent, who then dies, according to panelist Dr. Camille Kotton of Massachusetts General Hospital.
Dr. Jamie Loehr of Cayuga Family Medicine in Ithaca, New York, agreed, “Let’s whack this one down.”
For American children of any age, the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is the only option. According to the CDC, approximately 13.5 million children aged 12 to 17 years old — slightly more than half of that age group — have received two Pfizer vaccines. Last month, boosters were made available to 16 and 17-year-olds.
Following Wednesday’s decision, approximately 5 million younger teens who received their last vaccine in the spring will be eligible for a booster shot right away. According to new US guidelines, anyone who has had two Pfizer vaccinations and is due for a booster can get it five months after their last shot instead of the six months previously recommended.
However, one committee member, Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, was concerned that such a strong recommendation for teen boosters would divert attention away from getting vaccines into the hands of children who had not been vaccinated at all.
The advisers reviewed data from the United States, which showed that symptomatic COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are seven to eleven times higher in unvaccinated adolescents than in vaccinated adolescents.
While children are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 than adults, the number of children admitted to hospitals during the omicron wave is increasing, with the vast majority of them being unvaccinated.
Dr. Julie Boom of Texas Children’s Hospital said a booster recommendation for younger teens “cannot come soon enough” during the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting.
A rare side effect called myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation seen mostly in younger men and teen boys who get either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines is the main safety concern for adolescents. The vast majority of cases are mild — far milder than the heart inflammation caused by COVID-19 — and they appear to peak in older teenagers, particularly those aged 16 and 17.
Based on data from 6,300 12- to 15-year-olds in Israel who received a Pfizer booster five months after their second dose, the FDA decided that a booster dose was as safe for younger teens as it was for older teens. Officials in Israel said Wednesday that after giving 40,000 more boosters to this age group, they’ve seen two cases of mild myocarditis.
Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s vaccine chief, stated earlier this week that the side effect occurs in about 1 in 10,000 men and boys aged 16 to 30 years old after their second shot. However, he claims that a third dose is about a third less risky than the first two, owing to the fact that more time has passed between the booster and the first two shots.