Michigan kids ages 12 to 15 now poised to be eligible for COVID boosters
The vaccine advisory board for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday recommended COVID boosters for children 12- to 15 years old.
The recommendation will be reviewed by CDC director Rochelle Walensky. If she approves, the decision will make boosters available for the first time for young teens as schools struggle to stay open against skyrocketing COVID cases.
The boosters would be given at least five months after the second dose of the two-dose series, the panel recommended.
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Boosters for this age group are likely welcome news for many Michigan families, said Dr. Lynn Smitherman, a Detroit-based pediatrician: “I had a couple of parents text me over the weekend with ‘Hey, I hear the boosters are coming out for the kids.”
But for others, boosters may be a tough sell, as parents are overwhelmed with information — much of it constantly-changing, she said.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 Wednesday in favor of extending boosters to children as young as 12. Until now, only those 16 and older have been eligible for boosters, except for children considered immunocompromised.
It was the third change in booster recommendations by the CDC in as many days, and one of several recommendations that have changed in recent weeks.
The CDC this week also shortened the recommended time between initial doses and boosters for anyone who received the Pfizer vaccine. Under the new recommendation, Pfizer vaccine recipients now may get a Pfizer or Moderna booster 5 months after completing the second dose of their two-dose primary series; it had been six months. (The recommendations for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or Moderna vaccines remain unchanged.)
The CDC this week also shortened the wait for additional doses for 5- to 11-year-olds who are immunocompromised. Those children now may receive another dose 28 days after their second shot from Pfizer — the only vaccine authorized and recommended for children 5 to 11 years old. That change reflects similar recommendations for adults who are immunocompromised.
In Detroit, Smitherman said a desire to return to sports and the frustration with online learning and uncertainty are driving much of the interest in vaccines and, in some cases, boosters for school-age children.
In Michigan, about 45 percent of children 12- to 15-year-old are vaccinated, according to state data.
But Smitherman noted that many parents and others are finding it difficult to keep up with rapidly evolving guidelines.
“People are getting kind of tired of information that’s constantly changing. It has them confused (and wondering) why are things changing so fast?” Smitherman said. “It feeds into the underlying mistrust.”
As of Monday, fewer than 2.4 million doses have been distributed in Michigan as “additional” or “booster” doses across all eligible groups, according to state data. “Additional doses” are those given to immunocompromised people who may not be able to mount the same level of immunity from a vaccine as healthier individuals, while “boosters” do what the name implies — they boost a typical immune response in most other people.
Boosters have been an easier sell to older residents. Michiganders 50 and older make up 38.2 percent of the state’s population but 69.7 percent of the people who have received boosters.
Dr. Ijeoma Nnodim Opara, another Detroit pediatrician, said she too sees an “uphill climb” in convincing families.
“I appreciate the CDC’s guidelines, but I’m concerned about the implementation,” she said.
“More coordinated, culturally appropriate messaging” can help convince some parents to seek COVID vaccines and boosters for their children, but rates likely won’t significantly improve until schools mandate them along with other vaccines — much like New Orleans has done, she said.
Bridge reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report.
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