U.S. Urges COVID-19 Boosters Starting at Age 12 to Fight Omicron
The U.S. is urging that everyone 12 and older get a COVID-19 booster as soon as they’re eligible, to help fight back the hugely contagious omicron mutant that’s ripping through the country.
Boosters already were encouraged for all Americans 16 and older, but Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed an extra Pfizer shot for younger teens—those 12 to 15—and strengthened its recommendation that 16- and 17-year-olds get it, too.
“It is critical that we protect our children and teens from COVID-19 infection and the complications of severe disease,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director, said in a statement Wednesday night.
“This booster dose will provide optimized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. I encourage all parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations,” she said.
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Earlier Wednesday, the CDC’s independent scientific advisers wrestled with whether a booster should be an option for younger teens, who tend not to get as sick from COVID-19 as adults, or more strongly recommended.
Dr. Sarah Long from Drexel University cautioned teens that giving them a booster to give them a temporary boost in their protection against infection is like playing whack a mouse. However, she felt that it was worth the extra dose to fight the omicron mutation and prevent kids from missing school and the other complications associated with COVID-19.
More important, if a child with a mild infection spreads it to a more vulnerable parent or grandparent who then dies, the impact “is absolutely crushing,” said panelist Dr. Camille Kotton of Massachusetts General Hospital.
“Let’s whack this one down,” agreed Dr. Jamie Loehr of Cayuga Family Medicine in Ithaca, New York.
Pfizer is BioNTech and BioNTech are the only options available for American children. The CDC says about 13.5 million children ages 12 to 17—slightly more than half of that age group—have received two Pfizer shots. The boosters were distributed to the 16 and 17 year-olds last week.
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Wednesday’s decision means about 5 million of the younger teens who had their last shot in the spring are eligible for a booster right away. According to new U.S. guidelines, anyone who receives two Pfizer shots and qualifies for a booster may get it up to five months following their last shot. This is in contrast with the previous recommendation of six months.
One committee member Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot from Vanderbilt University was concerned that such strong recommendations for boosters to teens would be distracting from the goal of getting shots in the hands of children who haven’t been vaccinated.
Advisors reviewed U.S. data that showed that hospitalizations and COVID-19 symptoms are seven to eleven times more common in non-vaccinated teens than in vaccinated.
While children do tend to suffer less serious illness from COVID-19 than adults, child hospitalizations are rising during the omicron wave—the vast majority of them unvaccinated.
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A rare side effect known as myocarditis can be dangerous for teens. This is usually seen in young men, and teenage boys, who receive the Moderna or Pfizer vaccinations. The vast majority of cases are mild — far milder than the heart inflammation COVID-19 can cause — and they seem to peak in older teens, those 16 and 17.
FDA ruled that boosters are safe for both younger and older teens. This was largely based on data from Israeli 6,300-year-olds aged 12-15 who had received boosters by Pfizer five months ago. Israeli officials said Wednesday that they’ve seen two cases of mild myocarditis in this age group after giving more boosters, 40,000.
This side effect is reported in 1 in 10,000 males and girls between the ages of 16-30 after the second dose. Dr. Peter Marks from FDA, chief vaccine officer said this earlier in week. However, he stated that the risk of a third dose seems less, at least by about one-third, likely because the booster has taken place over a longer period than it did between the two previous shots.