COVID-19 boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds will be available in La Plata and Archuleta counties starting this week, according to San Juan Basin Public Health officials.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory panel nearly unanimously authorized Pfizer and BioNTech’s third dose for 12- to 15-year-olds on Wednesday afternoon.
Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, agreed with the panel on Wednesday night, recommending the booster and setting in motion a rapid rollout that will allow many children returning to school to access a booster as early as Friday.
“This couldn’t come at a better time as we are struggling as a community and as a state with the explosive increase in omicron cases that is putting all of our community activities in danger,” said Liane Jollon, executive director of SJBPH.
“This omicron surge is presenting enormous challenges to our school partners because cases are rising so steeply,” she said. “The ability for this age group to access boosters will help us in this extraordinarily uncertain time where both preserving health care capacity and preserving in-person learning is in the interest of San Juan Basin Public Health and the community.”
The Food and Drug Administration previously approved Pfizer’s booster for 12- to 15-year-olds on Monday. The agency also shortened its recommended time until a booster from six months to five months and added a third dose to the initial two-vaccine series for immunocompromised children between the ages of 5 and 12.
According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data shared with The Durango Herald, pediatric COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in the last few weeks as the omicron variant has spread to account for 100% of new cases.
The state’s seven-day moving average for pediatric cases between the ages of 12 and 17 has risen from less than 50 new cases per 100,000 per day in mid-December to more than 100 this week.
“Hospitalizations of children infected with COVID-19 are currently rising,” Jollon said. “Incidence rates in children are also rising with schools coming back into session and awaiting further guidance from the CDC and CDPHE about what precautions they should be following.”
Emerging research provides evidence that booster shots restore waning immunity, protecting against severe illness and limiting transmission by reducing the viral load – the amount of virus in one’s system – and shortening the course of infection.
“The goal in boosting is to raise antibody levels, which not only protect individuals from severe illness, hospitalization and death, but also to shorten courses of infection and decrease viral load,” Jollon said.
“What we’re trying to do is protect individuals, but also interrupt chains of transmission,” she said.
According to data from Pfizer, a booster shot increases protective antibody levels 25-fold.
A study by Israeli scientists found that a booster shot limited transmission by decreasing the viral load fourfold.
Another study by Israeli researchers showed boosters were most effective at preventing new infections in younger people between the ages of 16 and 29.
The FDA evaluated real-world data from 6,300 children in Israel who received the booster before making the decision that the vaccine is safe earlier this week.
Dizziness, fainting and headaches were the most frequent side effects reported among 12- to 15-year-olds after receiving a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine task force.
Of the more than 10,400 reports of adverse reactions to the vaccine by 12- to 15-year-olds, 92% were not serious, according to Dr. John Su, a member of the taskforce.
The CDC has confirmed only 277 cases of myocarditis, heart inflammation, in 5- to 15-year-olds after the Pfizer vaccine, though the age group has received more than 27.3 million doses through the end of 2021.
Before 12- to 15-year-olds in La Plata County can access boosters, CDPHE must issue its own approval. It’s the last step after the federal government’s approval.
Chandler Griffin, an SJBPH spokesman, said the agency anticipates state approval will happen in the coming days.
SJBPH plans to start offering boosters to 12- to 15-year-olds as early as Friday and the weekend, he said.
“We’re supportive of more people being eligible for these lifesaving booster doses,” he said. “We hope people will use the motivation (of the current omicron surge) to keep themselves safe, keep their family safe (and) prevent severe illness.”