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A pharmacist inspects a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine vial at Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital on Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Nov. 17, 2021.

A pharmacist inspects a pediatric COVID-19 vaccine vial at Brian D. Allgood Army Community Hospital on Camp Humphreys, South Korea, Nov. 17, 2021. (Inkyeong Yun/U.S. Army)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea – U.S. Forces Korea is offering booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 and 5 to 11 if they’re immunocompromised.

USFK, which is responsible for roughly 28,500 U.S. troops and their families in the country, announced on its Facebook page Wednesday that eligible children can now receive a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at base health clinics throughout the peninsula.

“[USFK’s] No. 1 priority remains the protection of the force so we can protect and accomplish our mission,” Army Col. Lee Peters, the command’s spokesman, told Stars and Stripes in an email Thursday. “The best way to protect yourself, family and our community is to become fully vaccinated."

To schedule an appointment, parents or guardians can visit https://informatics-stage.health.mil/COVAX/.

Between Jan. 11 and Monday, USFK counted 566 COVID-19 cases in its community, a sharp drop from an all-time high of 1,599 infections in the previous week. The surge prompted South Korean health officials and lawmakers to issue statements urging the command to curb the virus' spread.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Thursday reported 6,603 COVID-19 cases throughout South Korea from the previous day — an increase from the previous week's 4,167 infections but lower than its one-day record of 7,849 cases on Dec. 15.

USFK began offering the initial dose of Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine on Nov. 15, roughly three weeks after the Food and Drug Administration approved it for emergency use.

Peters said 98% of USFK’s troops and 90% of its entire community, including contractors and Korean base workers, are fully vaccinated. He also noted that 30% of the command's troops and employees have received a booster shot.

The COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots are voluntary for family members of service members. Service members have been ordered by the Defense Department to be fully vaccinated but are not yet required to receive a booster shot.

The FDA on Jan. 3 expanded the booster shot to the 12-15 age group and approved its use for immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11. The agency also shortened the waiting period between the primary doses and a booster from six months to five.

The FDA studied data from over 6,300 people within the 12-15 age group and found that “the associated serious consequences that can occur including hospitalization and death, outweigh the potential risks,” according to a statement from the agency on Jan. 3.

The FDA added that there were “no new safety concerns” for that age bracket after a booster shot and that there were no additional cases of myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, or pericarditis, inflammation of the heart’s outer lining, among the test subjects.

“Throughout the pandemic, as the virus that causes COVID-19 has continuously evolved, the need for the FDA to quickly adapt has meant using the best available science to make informed decisions with the health and safety of the American public in mind,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement at the time.

“With the current wave of the omicron variant, it’s critical that we continue to take effective, life-saving preventative measures such as primary vaccination and boosters, mask wearing and social distancing in order to effectively fight COVID-19,” she said.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.
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