FDA expands Pfizer booster shots for younger teens

Lauran Neergaard
The Associated Press

The U.S. is expanding COVID-19 boosters as it confronts the omicron surge, with the Food and Drug Administration allowing extra Pfizer shots for children as young as 12.

Boosters already are recommended for everyone 16 and older, and federal regulators on Monday decided they’re also warranted for

12- to 15-year-olds once enough time has passed since their last dose.

But the move isn’t the final step. A panel for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to decide later this week whether to recommend boosters for the younger teens with a final decision by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC’s director.

The FDA also said everyone 12 and older who’s eligible for a Pfizer booster can get one as early as five months after their last dose rather than six months.

FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks said even though serious illness is uncommon in younger teens, a booster will help them avoid that risk — while also helping reduce the spread of omicron or any other coronavirus mutant.

The FDA based its latest booster decision largely on real-world data from Israel that found no new safety concerns when 6,300 12- to 15-year-olds got a Pfizer booster five months after their second dose.

Vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness from any type of COVID-19. But health authorities are urging everyone who’s eligible to get a booster dose for their best chance at avoiding milder breakthrough infections from the highly contagious omicron mutant.

Children tend to suffer less serious illness from COVID than adults. But child hospitalizations are rising during the omicron wave — most of them unvaccinated.

Pediatrician and global health expert Dr. Philip Landrigan of Boston College welcomed the FDA’s decisions, but stressed that the main need is to get the unvaccinated their first shots.

“It is among unvaccinated people that most of the severe illness and death from COVID will occur in coming weeks,” he said in an email. “Many thousands of lives could be saved if people could persuade themselves to get vaccinated.”

The vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech is the only U.S. option for children of any age. About 13.5 mil­lion 12- to 17-year-olds — just over half that age group — have received two Pfizer shots, according to the CDC.