By Riham Alkousaa and Miranda Murray
BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany's vaccine committee recommended on Thursday that all children between the ages of 12 and 17 receive a COVID-19 booster shot as the country reported a new daily record of more than 81,000 coronavirus infections.
The government's coronavirus crisis manager warned of possible bottlenecks in testing, though Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Germany had the means to handle the situation.
The move on booster shots makes Germany among the first countries in the world to make such a recommendation, following the United States, Israel and Hungary.
"The current situation, with a sharp increase in the number of cases due to the Omicron variant and the feared consequences for the health system in Germany, makes it necessary to extend the vaccination campaign," the STIKO vaccine committee said.
The third dose should be an mRNA shot from BioNTech/Pfizer and should be given, at the earliest, three months after the child had their second shot, STIKO said in a statement.
While data on the effectiveness and safety of the booster vaccination for 12- to 17-year-olds remains limited, the risk of severe side effects is estimated to be very low, it added.
NO REGULATORY APPROVAL
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not given regulatory approval, so Germany would be responsible for any liabilities linked to the booster for this age group.
The EMA said this week it was reviewing whether to extend the booster approval for Pfizer shots to adolescents aged 16 and 17, and expected drugmakers to apply for the 12-15 age group as well.
BioNTech said it was processing the data for booster vaccines for children aged 12-15 to be submitted to the EMA.
Germany, seeking to slow the spread of the Omicron variant that a week ago accounted for about 44% of COVID infections, reported a record 81,417 daily cases on Thursday, bringing the seven-day incidence to 427.7 per 100,000 residents.
More than 115,000 people have died with COVID-19 and some 45.1% of the population has received a booster.
The head of Germany's federal coronavirus crisis team Carsten Breuer said workers in critical infrastructure sectors would be prioritised if COVID-19 testing capacity tightened.
"As with all scarce resources, we will certainly have to pool capacities where necessary. This also applies to tests," Breuer told Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Health Minister Lauterbach said the booster campaign would help Germany avert the steep increase in Omicron infections.
He also welcomed the move from STIKO, which has in the past drawn criticism for hesitating in making such recommendations.
Germany's DIVI association for intensive/emergency medicine on Thursday published data showing that unvaccinated people made up a majority of all COVID-19 cases in intensive care units.
The data, collected between mid-December and Jan. 12 and covering around 90% of all COVID-19 new intensive care admissions, showed that 62% of those admitted were unvaccinated.
(Reporting by Miranda Murray, Riham Alkousaa and Josephine Mason; Additional reporting by Patricia Weis, Writing by Madeline Chambers and Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Alex Richardson and Gareth Jones)