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

Simon Huizar, 13, received his first dose of the Pfizer on May 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

  • An influential advisory committee to the CDC just voted 13-1 to 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 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 on the way. 

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

The vote is non-binding, but an official green-light from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is expected within hours, meaning shots could be available to teens who’ve been fully vaccinated for at least five months yet this week. 

Dr. Helen Keipp-Talbot, the lone no vote on the committee, said “this is not me against all boosters” but rather that the importance should be placed on the more life-saving work of getting unvaccinated teens vaccinated. 

The 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 sick altogether. 

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

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. 

Roughly 5 million US teens have been vaccinated for at least 5 months, making them eligible for a boost. But about half of American teenagers haven’t been vaccinated at all. 

“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 rarely see people masking anymore.”

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. 

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