On Wednesday, an advisory panel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) voted to recommend Pfizer-BioNTech COVID booster shot for kids ages 12 to 15, according to NBC News.
The CDC’s move is one of the critical steps in distributing additional shots to adolescents.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 in favor of giving boosters to 12- to 15-year-olds at least five months after their second dose.
CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, signed off on the recommendation and said, “We now recommend that all adolescents aged 12-17 years should receive a booster shot 5 months after their primary series.”
“This booster dose will provide optimized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant,” she added. “I encourage all parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.”
The agency’s move came two days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the additional doses for the age group.
A CDC official told the committee that around 5 million children are immediately eligible for the extra doses.
Panel member Dr. Katherine Poehling of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist in North Carolina told other colleagues, “I think we need to highlight that children are not OK. It is true children are hospitalized at a less frequent rate than adults, but Covid is overwhelming our hospitals and our children’s hospitals.”
Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, the only panelist who voted against the recommendation, said she is not against boosters for kids but “worried that it would distract from unvaccinated teens getting their first shots.”
CDC’s epidemic intelligence service officer Dr. Sara Oliver said in a presentation to the committee that U.S. cases have “rapidly increased” since the start of December because of the increased prevalence of Omicron – the variant that is now responsible for more than 95% of all new cases in the nation.
Adults are more vulnerable to severe COVID illness than children are. However, it has been found that kids are now being hospitalized with the illness at record numbers as Omicron sweeps the country.
In a separate interview, the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said Omicron appears to be less severe than previous variants, but the increasing number of infections due to its profound transmissibility means more and more children will get infected and end up in the hospital.
Dr. Oliver noted that most adolescents hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated. She said the number of cases and hospitalizations is seven to 11 times higher in unvaccinated adolescents compared to vaccinated adolescents.
She said, “We see a slight increase in hospitalization rates from over the summer, but overall rates remained relatively steady,” adding that it is too early to say how Omicron might behave in adolescents.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis of Israel’s Health Ministry, who presented the data to the CDC committee, said the nation saw a “significant drop” in the rate of infections in adolescents following the start of its booster campaign.
She said there were no new safety concerns out of more than 41,000 booster shots administered in Israel. However, there were only two confirmed cases of myocarditis after taking a booster, with one of them having a history of an inflammatory condition.
Dr. Oliver said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine appears to be highly protective against multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) in children, which is a rare but serious COVID-related complication. The CDC said more than 71 million Americans have already received a booster dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccine.