The first shots will go into arms as early as Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Pfizer boosters for teens ages 12 to 15 Wednesday night, paving the way for the first shots to go into arms Thursday morning.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer boosters on Monday, paving the way for the CDC’s final green light, and a CDC panel of experts voted to recommend them after reviewing data on Wednesday. The final cancellation from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky came a few hours later.
Because the CDC does not require vaccinated and boosted individuals to be quarantined after exposure, the availability of booster shots to 12- to 15-year-olds can have a major impact on keeping children in school during the winter wave.
Boosters for young teens can “reduce the potential for a child to become positive or infected,” said Dr. Amanda Cohn, senior advisor on vaccines at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and can have “an immense impact on the well-being of these children.”
“This is a tool in our toolbox,” said panelist Dr. Oliver Brooks, Chief Physician at Watts HealthCare Corporation. “It’s a hammer, we should hit that nail hard.”
Nevertheless, the CDC panel on Wednesday stressed that more should be put into initial vaccines, as almost a third of 12- to 17-year-olds have not yet received their first shots – which plays a major role in school transmission, as well as high rates of pediatric admissions as omicron hits the unvaccinated.
The focus should still be on getting the unvaccinated children vaccinated, said Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, a panelist and medical professor at Vanderbilt University.
“Boosters are incredibly important, but they will not solve this problem with the overcrowded hospitals. It is the unvaccinated,” Talbot said.
According to the CDC, unvaccinated 12- to 17-year-olds had an 11-fold higher risk of hospitalization than fully vaccinated adolescents.
The Pfizer vaccine, the only vaccine so far approved for the 12- to 15-year-old age group, was approved in May, meaning young people could only line up for their shots nine months ago.
The FDA and CDC have recommended that Pfizer booster shots be administered five months after the primary vaccine series.
The CDC said on Wednesday that immunity for 12- to 15-year-olds actually decreases, as it does in older people, making booster shots an essential tool, even though the initial vaccine effectiveness for 12- to 15-year-olds starts higher than older adults.
Boosters have also been shown to increase protection against omicron, which was evaded in the first two vaccines by the variant’s many mutations. With a booster shot, studies have shown that the protection can reach 80%, and any breakthrough infections are pretty much very mild.