On Tuesday, U.S. regulators approved a COVID-19 booster shot to healthy children aged 5-11 years old. This is in the hope that an additional dose of vaccine will increase their protection against infections as they creep up again.
Everyone 12 and older already was supposed to get one booster dose for the best protection against the newest coronavirus variants—and some people, including those 50 and older, can choose a second booster.
The Food and Drug Administration’s authorization now opens a third shot to elementary-age kids, too—at least five months after their last dose.
One more obstacle: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have to decide whether the booster should be recommended for this age group. The CDC’s scientific advisers are scheduled to meet on Thursday.
Pfizer’s shot is the only COVID-19 vaccine available for children of any age in the U.S. Those ages 5 to 11 receive one-third of the dose given to everyone 12 and older.
Whether elementary-age children need a booster has been overshadowed by parents’ outcry to vaccinate even younger tots, those under 5—the only group not yet eligible in the U.S. Pfizer and Moderna, a rival company, have been looking at their results in children under 5. The FDA will likely evaluate data from either one of them sometime next month.
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For the 5- to 11-year-olds, it’s not clear how much demand there will be for boosters. About 30% of this age group received their first Pfizer doses in November after vaccinations became available.
But in a small study, Pfizer found a booster revved up those kids’ levels of virus-fighting antibodies—including those able to fight omicron—the same kind of jump adults get from an extra shot.
While the coronavirus is more dangerous to adults than to children, youngsters can get severely ill—and more than 350 children ages 5 to 11 have died, according to CDC’s count.
Adding to public confusion, the CDC estimates 3 out of every 4 U.S. children of all ages have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic’s start—many of them during the winter omicron wave. Still, health authorities urge vaccination even in people who’ve previously had COVID-19, to strengthen their protection.
Even though vaccination may not prevent all milder diseases, omicron (and its siblings) are more effective than other variants in slipping through those defenses. Health authorities are unanimous in their belief that vaccines provide strong protection against COVID-19’s most severe outcomes, such as hospitalization or death.
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 Associated Press.
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