The Food and Drug Administration on Monday expanded eligibility for Pfizer and BioNTech booster shots to children ages 12 to 15 years old, as school restarts after winter break amid a surge of Covid infections across the U.S.
The FDA also shortened the time between primary vaccination and the booster dose to at least five months, down from six months. The agency also authorized a third vaccine dose as part of the primary series of shots for children ages 5 through 11 who have compromised immune systems.
“The recent rise in COVID-19 cases is concerning to all and today’s decision by the FDA to further expand the Emergency Use Authorization of a booster dose of our vaccine is critical to help us ultimately defeat this pandemic,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.
“We continue to believe that broad use of boosters is essential to preserving a high level of protection against this disease and reducing the rate of hospitalizations,” Bourla said.
New Covid infections have hit a pandemic high in the U.S. as the highly contagious omicron variant has supplanted delta as the dominant strain. The U.S. reported a seven-day average of 404,000 new infections as of Sunday, an increase of 104% compared with the week prior.
Elected officials are determined to avoid school closures, and studies from the United Kingdom have shown that booster shots significantly increase an individual’s protection against infection from omicron. Two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine still protect against severe disease from omicron, but the original series of shots are much less effective at preventing infection from the new variant.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has encouraged everyone who is eligible to receive a booster dose. The CDC still has to sign off an expanded eligibility for 12- to 15-year-old kids.
More than 65% of people ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated in the U.S., according to CDC data. Children under 5 years of age are not yet eligible for vaccination.
A growing body of data from the United Kingdom and South Africa indicates that omicron results in hospitalization less often than the delta variant, though researchers and public health officials have cautioned that it is still too early to draw broad conclusions about the variant’s severity.
Children generally at lower risk of developing severe disease from Covid, though pediatric hospital admissions are increasing in the U.S.
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