January 03, 2022
Many more children are now qualified to receive a third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine as the highly-infectious omicron variant continues to drive up infections across the country.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer's booster shots Monday for all children ages 12-15 and kids ages 5-11 who have certain underlying medical conditions. The eligibility expansion only applies to those who have completed Pfizer's two-dose vaccine regimen.
Children ages 5-11 who are not immunocompromised are not yet eligible to receive a booster shot, but the FDA said it will continue to review data on the matter.
The federal agency also shortened the timeline in which eligible Americans can receive a third dose of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine from six months to five months after completing their initial vaccination course.
“Throughout the pandemic, as the virus that causes COVID-19 has continuously evolved, the need for the FDA to quickly adapt has meant using the best available science to make informed decisions with the health and safety of the American public in mind,” FDA Acting Commissioner Janet Woodcock said. “With the current wave of the omicron variant, it’s critical that we continue to take effective, life-saving preventative measures such as primary vaccination and boosters, mask wearing and social distancing in order to effectively fight COVID-19.”
Last month, the FDA authorized Pfizer's COVID-19 booster shots for teenagers ages 16-17. Federal health regulators made all adults eligible in November for booster doses of any of the three available COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S.
The expansion of COVID-19 vaccine booster eligibility to more children comes as the U.S. is experiencing high levels of coronavirus transmission, caused in large part by the omicron variant. The variant accounted for about 59% of COVID-19 infections as of Dec. 25, according to the CDC.
Philadelphia is averaging 1,972 new cases of COVID-19 per day over the past two weeks, logging more coronavirus infections than at any other point during the pandemic. Almost one out of every four COVID-19 tests administered in Philly has come back positive over the last two weeks, according to the city health department.
A preliminary study last month found a Pfizer-BioNTech booster shot offers the same protection against the omicron variant as the two-dose regimen did against the original coronavirus and previous variants.
“Based on the FDA’s assessment of currently available data, a booster dose of the currently authorized vaccines may help provide better protection against both the delta and omicron variants," said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. "In particular, the omicron variant appears to be slightly more resistant to the antibody levels produced in response to the primary series doses from the current vaccines."
Pfizer-BioNTech expects to have an omicron-specific vaccine ready by March, if necessary.
As part of a national strategy outlined last month to combat the omicron variant, President Joe Biden reiterated his call for all eligible Americans to receive a booster shot.
Philadelphia residents can find information about vaccine booster availability, including specific clinics, on the city's COVID-19 website.