CDC urges boosters for kids aged 12 and older to prevent COVID, help them stay in school, and curb anxiety rates

·3 min read
a teenager gets jabbed with a covid-19 vaccine
Simon Huizar, 13, received his first dose of Pfizer on May 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
  • On Wednesday night, the CDC recommend teens 12 and up should get booster shots for COVID-19.

  • Pfizer boosts can be administered any time at least 5 months after the 2-shot primary series.

  • One doctor called it a last-ditch "whack-a-mole" strategy against Omicron.

Booster shots for vaccinated youngsters aged 12 and up are here.

An independent panel of doctors and nurses advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted 13-1 Wednesday afternoon to recommend teenagers should get boosted against COVID-19, at five months or more after their primary jabs.

The official green-light from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky came just hours later, making booster shots available to all teens who've been fully vaccinated.

"We now recommend that all adolescents aged 12-17 years should receive a booster shot 5 months after their primary series," Walensky said in a statement Wednesday evening. "This booster dose will provide optimized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. I encourage all parents to keep their children up to date with CDC's COVID-19 vaccine recommendations."

The CDC's independent advisors generally agreed upon that basic strategy, while also acknowledging that booster shots will do little to blunt the worst impacts COVID-19 is having across US now, as the burden of serious disease and death overwhelmingly falls on unvaccinated adults and children.

Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, the lone no vote on boosts Wednesday, said "this is not me against all boosters" but rather that more emphasis should be placed on getting unvaccinated teens vaccinated, which would help prevent more serious disease and hospitalization.

Other CDC advisors were careful to note that while two shots do a great job of keeping teens alive and out of the hospital, booster shots in this age group could serve an important function at this point in the pandemic, preventing some additional infections, and keeping more kids disease-free and in school, especially as the Omicron variant surges.

Dr. Sarah Long, a pediatrician on the committee, called boosters for teens a "last whack-a-mole" move to help as the fast-paced Omicron variant spreads.

But Long also stressed the protection that boosters afford against mild, symptomatic infections "will not last" cautioning that it is "not sustainable and not smart" to think we're going to continue to boost everyone with more shots indefinitely to avoid getting COVID altogether.

Other CDC experts said there may be more immeasurable, immediate-term benefits to the health and welfare of vaccinated children of getting boosted now.

Dr. Amanda Cohn from the CDC, in a rare personal moment, said that as a parent she thinks about "all of those immeasurable potential impacts of a booster dose" to potentially improve anxiety, depression, and perhaps both school attendance and viral transmission among students and teachers in the classroom.

'We can't put all of the burden on the people who are willing to get vaccinated'

Roughly 5 million US teens have been vaccinated for at least 5 months, making them eligible for a boost. Still, about half of American teenagers haven't been fully vaccinated yet.

"We can't put all of the burden on the people who are willing to get vaccinated, and when we only have half of our adolescents vaccinated, that adds more burden," committee member and nurse Lynn Bahta said. "I am so concerned that the burden of disease prevention is all falling on the vaccinated and them getting the boosters."

According to recent CDC data, unvaccinated 12-17 year olds are seven times more likely to test positive for COVID, and 11 times more likely to be hospitalized.

"Boosters are incredibly important, but they won't solve this problem of the crowded hospitals," Keipp Talbot said.

This story has been updated with the CDC's final recommendation.

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