Kids ages 5 to 11 should get a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, advisers to the U.S. government said Thursday.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention quickly adopted the panel’s recommendation, opening a third COVID-19 shot to healthy elementary-age kid just like what is already recommended for everybody 12 and older.
It is hoped that the extra shot will provide protection to kids aged 5-11, as infection rates are back up.
“Vaccination with a primary series among this age group has lagged behind other age groups leaving them vulnerable to serious illness,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, in a statement.
“We know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s kid-sized booster, to be offered at least five months after the youngsters’ last shot.
Next, the CDC recommends who needs vaccines. The CDC’s experts debated whether all healthy children aged 5-11 years old should be vaccinated, given the fact that so many were exposed to the virus during the winter surge.
The U.S. is now experiencing an average of 100,000 cases per day, for the first-time since February. And ultimately, the CDC’s advisers pointed to growing evidence from older kids and adults that two primary vaccinations plus a booster are providing the best protection against the newest coronavirus variants.
“This always perhaps should have been a three-dose vaccine,” said Dr. Grace Lee of Stanford University, who chairs the CDC’s advisory panel.
The booster question isn’t the hottest vaccine topic: Parents still are anxiously awaiting a chance to vaccinate kids under 5 — the only group not yet eligible in the U.S.
Dr. Doran Fink of the Food and Drug Administration said the agency is working “as rapidly as we can” to evaluate an application from vaccine maker Moderna, and is awaiting final data on the littlest kids from rival Pfizer. The FDA’s own advisers are expected to publicly debate data from one or both companies next month.
For the 5- to 11-year-olds, it’s not clear how much booster demand there will be. Since November, vaccinations were opened for them. Only 30% of this age group has received their first Pfizer doses.
Helen Keipp Talbot from Vanderbilt University, a CDC advisor said that the health authorities should be more focused on getting young people their first shot.
“That needs to be a priority,” she said.
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Thursday’s decision also means that 5- to 11-year-olds with severely weakened immune systems, who are supposed to get three initial shots, would be eligible for a fourth dose.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech currently make the only COVID-19 vaccine available for children of any age in the U.S. Those ages 5 to 11 receive a dose that’s one-third the amount given to everyone 12 and older.
In a small study, Pfizer found a booster revved up those kids’ levels of virus-fighting antibodies — including those able to fight the super-contagious omicron variant—the same kind of jump adults get from an extra shot.
Milder infections may not be prevented by vaccines, but the omicron strain proved to be particularly susceptible. The CDC cites data that shows unvaccinated 5-11-year-olds were twice as likely to be admitted than children who had received the first dose.
Health authorities say for all ages, the vaccines are still offering strong protection against COVID-19’s worst outcomes, especially after a third dose.
Some especially high-risk people, including those 50 and older, have been offered the choice of a second booster, or fourth shot—and the CDC on Thursday strengthened that recommendation, too, urging anyone who’s eligible to go ahead and get the extra dose.
It is not yet clear if everyone will require additional shots during the fall. If so, it may be reformulated to provide better protection against current coronavirus variants.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content remains the responsibility of the AP.
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