Pfizer expands COVID booster to 16, 17 year-olds; can the system handle them?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made another large group of people, 16 and 17-year-olds, eligible for the Pfizer vaccine booster shot to battle the COVID omicron variant. The question is: will there be enough vaccine to serve them in addition to the vast population already eligible?  

KTVU spoke to one of the nation's foremost vaccine experts about the impact the new wave of booster patients will have put another soon to come tidal wave of patients.

As we've seen in recent days, Pfizer COVID shots have a hit-and-miss availability. With only one in five Californians already boosted, meaning that the vast majority have yet to get the additional shot.

But the FDA, saying lab data shows that booster shots provide strong provide protection against the COVID omicron variant, is adding 8 million 16 and 17-year-olds. 

"To protect them, it also has an impact on their family circle and the in their community and the world as a whole," said Dr. Margaret Liu, a UCSF infectious disease and vaccine expert.

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The big issues in play are three-fold. One: making sure there's enough vaccine available and syringes everywhere. Two: making sure there are enough vaccine administration sites. Three: making sure there are enough qualified staff to administer them.

But, the mass inoculation sites, walk-in and drive-thru, prevalent when vaccines were new, no longer exist. "So, it's a different process of distribution rather that it being that there's a shortage of vaccines," said Liu.

The Associated Press reports that a favored inoculation site, pharmacies, already have too many shot seekers, but not enough staff to satisfy demand. "Most of the walk-in type of places like the  pharmacies are requiting you to make an appointment now," said Liu.

But, many unvaccinated people may prefer the coming Merck and Pfizer antiviral pills to take when they first get sick, adding to more demand on pharmacy resources. "It's always better to not get sick than to get sick and then have to take pills," said Liu.

Finally, Pfizer's Thursday announcement that a second booster shot, four in all, will make it harder to meet that massive population wide demand.