Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster window cut from 6 to 5 months, children 12-15 now eligible

·4 min read

With the new year comes updated booster shot guidelines for people who received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Namely, Florida adolescents returning to school this month — following a winter holiday break overshadowed by the new omicron variant — now can get an extra dose of protection against the coronavirus.

On Jan. 3, the Food and Drug Administration broadened its emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine to include single-dose boosters for children 12-15, a move the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seconded two days later. Boosters previously were restricted to those 16 and older.

► Omicron: First case of COVID-19 variant in Florida confirmed in St. Lucie

► COVID-19 testing: Should you get tested if you’re asymptomatic?

► Unvaccinated? Here’s where you can get a free COVID-19 vaccine today

“It’s important for this age group, from 12 and up, to get that booster so that they are not getting sick with omicron nearly as much, and we can decrease the spread,” said Dr. Genon Wicina, of the Cleveland Clinic Martin Health Pediatric Institute in Stuart. “In the adult world, they’re seeing a lot more efficacy if you’ve had that booster.”

The unknowns surrounding omicron are plentiful; the World Health Organization declared it a variant of concern just six weeks ago. But already it has proven more contagious than the first iteration of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Genon Wicina, M.D., a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Martin Health Pediatric Institute in Stuart, Fla.
Genon Wicina, M.D., a physician at the Cleveland Clinic Martin Health Pediatric Institute in Stuart, Fla.

Which is why boosters for people 12-15 are important beyond just shielding the adolescents themselves, Wicina stressed.

“We still have a large population under the age of 5 that has no protection whatsoever,” she said. “Older kids still have the potential to bring this home to those younger kids.”

Pfizer recipients can get a COVID booster shot after 5 months

In the first days of 2022, the FDA and CDC also signed off on a shortened booster window for Pfizer recipients 12 and older. Instead of waiting six months after completing the primary, two-dose series to get a booster shot, people now need only wait five.

Booster intervals for the other two vaccine brands remain the same — for now. People who completed the primary, two-dose Moderna series can get their boosters after six months. The FDA on Jan. 7 authorized the shortening of the Moderna window to five months, but the CDC has yet to approve the measure.

Those who got the single-dose J&J shot must wait two months.

Lastly, the FDA and CDC approved a third, additional dose of the Pfizer vaccine for children 5-11 who have moderately to severely compromised immune systems. This means all immunocompromised individuals 5 and older should receive an extra dose at least 28 days after completing their primary series.

“Go ahead and get that booster as soon as possible,” said Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions. “It may not completely prevent people from getting infected, but we know that the booster is very effective at preventing people from getting hospitalized, from dying.”

Pediatric COVID vaccination rate is lagging in Florida

Though booster expansion to adolescents 12-15 is a critical step toward snuffing out the pandemic, Wicina acknowledged, there’s a more pressing concern: immunizing the over 1.4 million Florida children 5-11 who remain unvaccinated.

The CDC in early November endorsed the pediatric Pfizer vaccine, each dose of which is one-third of that given to people 12 and older. Yet just 16% of kids 5-11 had been at least partially vaccinated through Jan. 6, according to the Florida Department of Health.

Accounting for possible reporting delays through Christmas and New Year’s, this percentage may be an underestimation. By comparison, however, 27% of Floridians 65 and older had been at least partially immunized through Jan. 31, 2021 — when the vaccine wasn’t yet widely available.

“Sometimes, parents are more confident in the vaccine after it’s been out for a while,” Wicina said. “It may be why we haven’t seen as much of that younger group being immunized yet.”

Statewide vaccination rates increase with age; 59% of people 12-19 had been at least partially immunized through Jan. 6 compared to 91% of people 65 and older.

This time last year, alpha was the variant du jour, the first Florida case having been confirmed in Martin County on New Year’s Eve 2020. Beta, epsilon, gamma, delta and omicron dispersed across the state throughout 2021. Others will continue to emerge as long as unvaccinated people abound, Wicina said.

”The more [the virus] circulates and replicates, the more it mutates and it just keeps coming around,” she said. “We don’t ever get control of it because it just keeps changing.”

Prins, of UF, is concerned but not surprised about the low pediatric vaccination rate, and thinks the newest variant itself may be to blame.

“I worry that this message is coming out that omicron is not a big deal, it’s just like a cold,” she said. “It’s not going to be true across the board … getting vaccinated is the safer and controlled way of getting immunity.”

Lindsey Leake is TCPalm's health, welfare and social justice reporter. She has a master's in journalism and digital storytelling from American University, a bachelor's from Princeton and is a science writing graduate student at Johns Hopkins. Follow her on Twitter @NewsyLindsey, Facebook @LindseyMLeake and Instagram @newsylindsey. Call her at 772-529-5378 or email her at lindsey.leake@tcpalm.com.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Pfizer COVID booster shots: Kids eligible; FDA, CDC shorten dose window

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting