US expands Pfizer COVID boosters, opens extra dose to age 16

A teenager receives a dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine at Ford Field, during an event to promote and encourage Michigan residents to go and get their vaccines. Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images, FILE/Via ABC News)

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky has signed off on the recommendation for Pfizer boosters for 16- and 17-year-olds.

“Although we don’t have all the answers on the Omicron variant, initial data suggests that COVID-19 boosters help broaden and strengthen the protection against Omicron and other variants,” Walensky said. “I strongly encourage adolescents ages 16 and 17 to get their booster if they are at least 6 months post their initial Pfizer vaccination series.”

The FDA authorized Pfizer’s booster for 16 and 17-year-olds earlier on Thursday.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called this a “critical milestone.”

“While new variants, including Omicron, emerge across the globe, we believe that the best way to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and any future variants is getting all eligible people fully vaccinated with the first two-dose series and a booster dose as recommended,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. and many other nations already were urging adults to get booster shots to pump up immunity that can wane months after vaccination, calls that intensified with the discovery of the worrisome new omicron variant.

“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.

The Pfizer vaccine is the only option in the U.S. for anyone younger than 18, either for initial vaccination or for use as a booster. It’s not yet clear if or when teens younger than 16 might need a third Pfizer dose. But Walensky said the CDC and FDA would closely watch data on 12- to 15-year-olds because if they eventually need boosters, “we again will want to act swiftly.”

Vaccinations for children as young as 5 just began last month, using special low-dose Pfizer shots. By this week, about 5 million 5- to 11-year-olds had gotten a first dose.

The extra-contagious delta variant is causing nearly all COVID-19 infections in the U.S., and in much of the world. 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.

“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.

(Cheyenne Haslett, Eric M. Strauss / ABC News / Associated Press)