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What do FDA’s changes in COVID-19 boosters mean for you?

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 3, 2022

Nicole Villalpando Tribune News Service

On Monday, the FDA changed the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. It now allows people who received the Pfizer vaccine to get a booster at five months, instead of six months, after they received their second dose of the vaccine.

The FDA also recommended booster vaccines for kids 12 to 15. Previously boosters were allowed only for people 16 and older.

And it advised that kids 5 to 11 who have had a solid organ transplant or have a similar level of being immune compromised receive a third dose at 28 days after the second dose.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to follow these new recommendations.

—Why are vaccinations and boosters important?

In the past month local hospitals have been seeing the unvaccinated come through their doors.

At Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, Texas, all of the children hospitalized for COVID-19 have been unvaccinated, says Dr. Meena Iyer, the hospital’s chief medical officer. These patients also tend to have comorbidities such as obesity or a chronic illness.

Yes, with the omicron variant, there have been more breakthrough cases in people who are fully vaccinated and even vaccinated and boosted, but “if they had not gotten (the vaccine), they would be so much sicker,” Iyer says.

She likens getting COVID-19 after getting vaccinated to having a flu shot and still getting the flu. It usually is a milder case and is less likely to result in a hospital stay.

—When should I get a booster shot?

Monday’s FDA recommendations affect only people who got the Pfizer vaccine. Changes officially begin once the CDC approves these recommendations.

If you received a Pfizer vaccine and are 12 and older, you can get a booster now five months after your second vaccine. The booster is a full dose of the original vaccine.

If you received the Moderna vaccine, which is available only for people 18 and older, you can get a booster at six months after your second vaccine. That booster is a half dose of the original vaccine.

If you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is available only for ages 18 and older, you can get a booster two months after you received that one-dose vaccine. That booster is a full dose of the original vaccine.

For people 18 and older, you can get any of these three vaccines as your booster vaccine. For people 12 to 17, Pfizer is the only vaccine available to them as both the primary vaccine series and the booster.

—What about side effects with the booster?

There is a myth that the vaccine and booster can cause COVID-19, Iyer says. People should reach out to their pediatricians or family care doctors if they have questions or go to reliable places such as the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics for information.

The side effects with the booster have been similar to the initial rounds of vaccines — headache, fever, sore arm. The one notable difference, the FDA said, was that the cases of the rare side effect of myocarditis in teens and young adults, mostly males, tend to happen more with the second dose, rather than the first dose or the booster.

Iyer says at Dell Children’s they have yet to treat a child or teen with myocarditis following the vaccine, but have treated plenty of cases because of the actual COVID-19 virus.

—Why five months instead of six months for Pfizer?

The FDA follows the science based on the data it has. Pfizer always has presented its most recent data before Moderna or Johnson & Johnson.

Since Pfizer initially submitted its data on boosters, the omicron variant has become the predominant one circulating. The FDA says real-world data became available about that variant and the cases being seen in the United States. Pfizer also provided peer-reviewed studies on the effectiveness of a booster shot with this variant.

The FDA also looked at safety results from Israel in people 16 and older who received a booster five months after the initial doses.

This move is to try to get more people with the necessary protection from the omicron variant — a recent vaccine or a booster.

—Which kids qualify for a third dose?

Kids who have had a solid organ transplant, are on dialysis, have cancer, or have another chronic illness that causes them to take an immune suppressing medication or high dose steroid would qualify for the third dose.

Those kids are getting a third dose because they have trouble mounting enough of an immune response with the first two doses.

Check with your child’s specialist or pediatrician if you’re not sure if your child qualifies.

—Where can I get a booster shot?

Local pharmacies have vaccines available. It helps to make an appointment online and to make sure the pharmacy has the right vaccine for you. Kids who are 12 to 17 have to receive a Pfizer booster. Immune compromised 5- to 11-year-olds need to receive the lower-dose pediatric dose of Pfizer for their third shot, just like their first and second doses.

—What can we do to protect against omicron as school starts?

Iyer recommends getting vaccinated and boosted depending on where you fit in the timeline and recommendations for your age. Wear masks, preferably medical quality such as surgical, N95 or KN95 masks. The cloth masks don’t have the same level of protection against transmission with this variant. Wash your hands regularly and social distance.

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©2022 www.statesman.com. Visit statesman.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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