CDC panel recommends Pfizer COVID-19 booster for adolescents

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel on Wednesday recommended adolescents aged 12 to 15 should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least 5 months after the primary series.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also expanded its recent recommendations on older teens, to make it clear that teens aged 16 and 17 “should” also receive a booster dose.

Booster shots are seen as a key tool to fight the omicron variant, which has shown a heightened ability to infect people who have received two shots, though vaccinated people still have important protection against severe disease.

The 13-1 vote comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized booster doses for adolescents, and is one of the final steps before pharmacists, physicians and other providers will be able to administer vaccines for children in that age group.

Once the CDC signs off, boosters will be allowed to be administered. About 5 million children would immediately be eligible for the extra doses, a CDC official told the committee Wednesday.

Panel members debated how strong to make the recommendation, because the panel just last month said 16 and 17 year olds “may” get a booster dose, rather than “should.” Adolescents are generally less likely to suffer from severe disease, and even though some effectiveness against infection wanes, the initial vaccines maintain protection against severe disease and hospitalization. 

Sarah Long, a professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine, said giving teens and adolescents a booster is like playing “whack-a-mole,” since it’s unclear just how much benefit the extra dose can give against infection. But still, she said it was worth it because of how transmissible the omicron variant is and how many people are being infected.

According to the CDC, the majority of adolescents hospitalized with COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Symptomatic COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are up to 11 times higher in unvaccinated adolescents compared to vaccinated ones, it said.

Helen Keipp Talbot, the lone panel member who voted against the recommendations, said she isn’t against giving adolescents booster shots, but was concerned about the risks of myocarditis, a rare but serious heart inflammation. 

Talbot, a vaccine researcher at Vanderbilt University, said she thinks it’s best to focus on getting shots into the unvaccinated.

“I just really want the U.S. to move forward with vaccinating all kids so that all kids can get back to a normal life. And I don’t think it’s fair for 12- to 17-year-olds who have been vaccinated to risk myocarditis again for an unknown benefit because their colleagues won’t get vaccinated,” Talbot said.

According to the CDC, the risk is of myocarditis is slight. The agency has confirmed 277 cases of myocarditis in 5- to 15-year-olds who received the Pfizer vaccine out of more than 27 million doses. 

Updated at 5:56 p.m.

Tags adolescents Booster dose Coronavirus COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
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