Editorial: COVID vaccine booster shots, now available to teens ages 16 and 17, are a smart choice

Day by day, seemingly hour by hour, we are learning more about omicron COVID-19 variant.

According to the Associated Press: "An analysis Tuesday of data from South Africa, where the new variant is driving a surge in infections, suggests the Pfizer vaccine offers less defense against infection from omicron and reduced, but still good, protection from hospitalization. The findings are preliminary and have not been peer-reviewed -- the gold standard in scientific research -- but they line up with other early data about omicron's behavior, including that it seems to be more easily spread from person to person."

As more data and information is released about the COVID variant, health officials are urging people to be proactive by getting vaccinated, receiving their booster shots (if eligible), masking, practicing social distancing and having good hand hygiene.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this past Friday opened the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 booster dose to 16- and 17-year-olds. Those in this age group should receive the booster at least six months after completion of a primary series (two shots) of the Pfizer vaccine. Everyone 18 or older is eligible for a booster shot.

"The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been available to individuals 16 years of age and older for nearly a year, and its benefits have been shown to clearly outweigh potential risks," said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. "Since we first authorized the vaccine, new evidence indicates that vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 is waning after the second dose of the vaccine for all adults and for those in the 16- and 17-year-old age group. A single booster dose of the vaccine for those vaccinated at least six months prior will help provide continued protection against COVID-19 in this and older age groups."

The Pfizer booster doses are available for this age group at North Georgia Health District health departments on a no-appointment-needed basis during clinic hours in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield counties. All COVID-19 vaccinations are provided at county health departments without an appointment during clinic hours. Go to www.nghd.org for health department clinic hours and locations.

The booster shot -- like the previous two shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine -- is free.

"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," said Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock. "As people gather indoors with family and friends for the holidays, we can't let up on all the preventive public health measures that we have been taking during the pandemic. With both the delta and omicron variants continuing to spread, vaccination remains the best protection against COVID-19."

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