Triangle residents, health experts welcome news of boosters for 16- and 17-year-olds

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The FDA and CDC both announced their support for a Pfizer booster dose for 16- and 17-year-olds who are at least six months removed from their last dose.

The news, coming as a welcome surprise to Triangle mother Beth Messersmith.

"(My son) was on his lunch break and I got a text saying, 'mom, look at this article. I'm eligible for my booster.' And he was really excited," said Messersmith.

Her 16-year-old son is one of the millions of teens across the country now eligible for their booster.

"We've been very much looking forward to it, hoping for it. Especially hearing about Omicron, and the need for these extra boosters. We have ours, but you don't feel safe until your kids are safe," Messersmith said.

They plan on setting up his appointment as soon as possible, noting they have travel plans lined up.

"We're going to see grandparents. We missed them last year, we're going to see them. One of them is immune-compromised. She's had the boosters, but it doesn't protect her in the same way, This makes us feel so much safer taking him to see her," said Messersmith.

Thursday's decision comes as North Carolina experiencing worsening COVID-19 metrics during the past two weeks. New cases topped 4,000 for the first time since early October, representing a 78% increase from last November. Hospitalizations are also on the rise, up 35% in the past two weeks, with a quarter of patients in the ICU.

"The safety has been studied in these age groups. These 16-, 17-year-old age groups. It's very safe. And countries like Israel have already been giving third-dose vaccines in these age groups, and have not seen any additional safety concerns emerge," said Dr. Matthew Vogt, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UNC's School of Medicine.

Vogt said he believes we are in a better place today than we were last year in terms of the pandemic, and he added that young people generally respond less severely to the virus. Still, he said he believes more needs to be done to increase vaccination rates, especially amongst younger children.

"The 5-11 year age group, we're only looking at upwards of 6% fully vaccinated, and approaching 12% with even a single-dose. So, we have a lot of work to do with initial vaccinations in these age groups," said Vogt.

While the Omicron variant has not been found in North Carolina, it has been identified in several other states. Preliminary data shows that the variant may be more transmissible, though a booster dose of the mRNA vaccines does provide enhanced protection.

"This should be a wake-up call. The virus doesn't care about our desires for the pandemic to be over. The virus is going to keep mutating," Vogt said.

Last month, the FDA authorized booster shots for everybody 18 and older.
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