An expert panel that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on vaccines voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to recommend that children aged 12 to 15 should get a Covid-19 booster dose five months after the second dose in their primary series.
The 13-to-1 vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices also changed the recommendation for 16- and 17-year olds, suggesting that they should get a booster as well. Previously the recommendation for those teens was a permissive one, suggesting they could get a booster if they wished. Now the committee is suggesting all children aged 12 to 17 should get a booster. (One member wasn’t present for the meeting and vote.)
The recommendation was endorsed Wednesday evening by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
“It is critical that we protect our children and teens from Covid-19 infection and the complications of severe disease,” Walensky said in a statement. “This booster dose will provide optimized protection against Covid-19 and the Omicron variant.”
In previous meetings a number of ACIP members had raised concerns about offering boosters to young people, because of the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis seen after receipt of messenger RNA vaccines like the Pfizer-BioNTech product, the only vaccine authorized for those 17 and younger. Myocarditis and pericarditis are inflammations of the heart and tissue around the heart, respectively.
But the surge of the Omicron variant and the tsunami of cases it is causing appears to have changed minds on the committee.
“I think this is a tool we need to use,” said Katherine Poehling, director of pediatric population health at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Poehling said children sick with Covid-19 are waiting up to 18 hours in the emergency department for a bed because of the elevated demand for care.
The sole member to vote against the recommendation, Helen “Keipp” Talbot, said after the vote that she supports making booster shots available to youths 12 to 15. But Talbot, a vaccine researcher and associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University, said she felt the country would gain more by focusing limited public health resources on trying to get more children in this age group vaccinated than by boosting the children who have already had two doses.
“I am just fine with kids getting boosters,” she said. “I just really want the U.S. to move forward with vaccinating all kids so that all kids can get back to a normal life. And I don’t think it’s fair for 12- to 17-year-olds who have been vaccinated to risk myocarditis again for an unknown benefit because their colleagues won’t get vaccinated.”
During the meeting, the committee heard a presentation from Sharon Alroy-Preis, of Israel’s Ministry of Health, on use of booster doses in that country. Israel began administering booster shots before the U.S. did.
She said that so far the country has seen only two cases of myocarditis in 41,610 doses given to 12- to 15-year olds. One of the children had previously suffered from pericarditis unrelated to Covid vaccination.
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