US urges COVID booster shots starting at age 12

by Lauren Niergaard and Mike Stobe | The Associated Press

The United States is urging that everyone 12 years of age and older get a COVID-19 booster as soon as possible to help fight the highly contagious omicron mutants that are spreading rapidly in the country.

Boosters were already encouraged for all Americans 16 and older, but on Wednesday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed an additional Pfizer shot for young teens — those 12 to 15 — and strengthened its recommendation. Did that 16- and 17-year-old get it, too.

“It is critical that we protect our children and adolescents from the complications of COVID-19 infection and serious illness,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Valensky said in a statement Wednesday night.

“This booster dose will provide customized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. I encourage all parents to keep their children up to date with the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations,” she said.

Vaccines still provide strong protection against serious illness from any type of COVID-19, including Omicron – which experts say is their most important advantage. But the latest mutants may have bypassed a layer of vaccines’ protection by causing minor infections. Studies show that booster doses at least temporarily increase virus-fighting antibodies to levels that offer the best chance of avoiding symptomatic infection, even from Omicron.

Earlier on Wednesday, independent scientific advisers to the CDC wrestled whether boosters should be an option for young teens who don’t get sick from COVID-19 as adults, or more strongly recommended.

CDC advisor Dr. Sarah Long of Drexel University says giving teenagers boosters for a temporary leap in protection against infection is like playing whack-a-mole. But she said the extra shot was worth it to help push back the Omicron mutants and protect children from missed school and other problems that come with a very mild case of COVID-19.

More importantly, said panelist Dr. Camille Cotten of Massachusetts General Hospital, if a child with a mild infection spreads it to a more vulnerable parent or grandparent, who then dies, the effect is “absolutely crushing.” The one” happens.

“Let’s nail it down,” agreed Dr. Jamie Lohr of Cayuga Family Medicine in Ithaca, New York.

The vaccine, made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, is the only option for American children of any age. The CDC says that about 13.5 million children ages 12 to 17 — a little more than half of that age group — have received two Pfizer shots. The boosters opened last month to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Wednesday’s decision means that nearly 5 million young teens who got their last shot in the spring are eligible for a booster immediately. New US guidelines say anyone who has received two Pfizer vaccinations and is eligible for a booster can get it five months after their last shot, instead of the six months recommended for the first .

But a member of the committee, Dr. Helen Keep Talbot of Vanderbilt University, worried that such a strong recommendation for teen boosters would distract from getting the shot in the arms of children who haven’t been vaccinated at all.

The advisors clarified the US data, seeing that symptomatic COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are seven to 11 times higher in non-vaccinated teens than in non-vaccinated teens.

While children suffer less severe illness from COVID-19 than adults, children are being hospitalized during the omicron wave – most of them unvaccinated.

During the public comment portion of Wednesday’s meeting, Dr. Julie Boom of Texas Children’s Hospital said the booster recommendation for young teens “can’t come soon enough.”