Already, the U.S. and other countries were encouraging adults to receive booster shots in order to boost immunity. Immunity can decrease for months following vaccination. These calls intensified after the release of the new, worrying omicron.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds to get a third dose of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech ― if it’s been six months since their last shot.

“Vaccination and getting a booster when eligible, along with other preventive measures like masking and avoiding large crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, remain our most effective methods for fighting COVID-19,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, said in a statement.

There’s one more step: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must formally recommend the boosters for this age group and a decision is expected soon.

“The booster vaccination increases the level of immunity and dramatically improves protection against COVID-19 in all age groups studied so far,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

Anyone under 18 years old can only get the Pfizer vaccine in the United States. This is for either initial or booster vaccination. It’s not yet clear if or when teens younger than 16 might need a third Pfizer dose.

Children as young as five years old can get vaccines using low dose Pfizer shots. About 5 million children aged 5-to-11 years old had received their first vaccine by the end of last week.

Nearly all COVID-19-related infections are caused by the extra-contagious Delta variant. This is true in many parts of the U.S. and around the globe. It’s not yet clear how vaccines will hold up against the new and markedly different omicron mutant. But there’s strong evidence that boosters offer a jump in protection against delta-caused infections, currently the biggest threat.

Complicating the decision to extend boosters to 16- and 17-year-olds is that the Pfizer shot ― and a similar vaccine made by Moderna ― have been linked to a rare side effect. Called myocarditis, it’s a type of heart inflammation seen mostly in younger men and teen boys.

FDA stated that the FDA believes rising COVID-19 incidences in the U.S. means the boosters’ benefits far outweigh the risk of rare side effects. This is especially true considering the fact the coronavirus, which can lead to more severe heart inflammation, may also be increasing.

Israel’s health authorities, which provide boosters for teens already, said that the side effects continue to be uncommon with third-dose doses.

This week, a U.S. research provided additional assurance. Researchers from children’s hospitals around the country checked medical records and found the rare side effect usually is mild and people recover quickly. Circulation published the research Monday.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content is the sole responsibility of the Associated Press.


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