The FDA approves COVID-19 booster shots for healthy children ages 5 to 11
The FDA approves COVID-19 booster shots for healthy children ages 5 to 11

The FDA approves COVID-19 booster shots for healthy children ages 5 to 11

A nurse holds a vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, and a vial of the adult-labeled vaccine at a vaccination station in Jackson, Miss. (AP file photo / Rogelio V. Solis)

U.S. regulators on Tuesday approved a COVID-19 booster shot for healthy 5- to 11-year-olds, hoping an extra dose of vaccine will improve their protection as infections creep up again.

Everyone 12 years and older should already have a booster dose for the best protection against the latest coronavirus variants – and some people, including those 50 and older, may choose another booster.

The Food and Drug Administration’s approval now opens a third shot of Pfizer’s vaccine for primary school children – at least five months after their last dose.

There is another obstacle: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must decide whether to formally recommend the booster to this age group. The CDC’s scientific advisers are scheduled to meet on Thursday.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech make the only COVID-19 vaccine available to children of all ages in the United States. Those aged 5 to 11 receive one-third of the dose given to all 12 years and older.

Whether elementary school children need a booster has been overshadowed by parents’ calls to vaccinate even younger children, those under 5 – the only group not yet eligible in the United States. Both Pfizer and rival Moderna have studied their shots at the youngest children, and the FDA is expected to evaluate data from one or both companies sometime next month.

For the 5- to 11-year-olds, it is not clear how much demand there will be for boosters. Only about 30% of that age group have received the first two doses of Pfizer since vaccinations opened for them in November.

But Pfizer’s vaccine “is effective in helping prevent the most serious consequences of COVID-19 in people 5 years of age and older,” said FDA vaccine chief Dr. Peter Marks “A booster dose may help provide continued protection against COVID-19 in this and older age groups.”

In a small study, Pfizer found that a booster increased these children’s levels of antiviral antibodies – including those capable of fighting the super-infectious omicron variant – the same kind of jump that adults get from an extra shot.

While coronavirus is more dangerous for adults than for children, young people can become seriously ill – and more than 350 children aged 5 to 11 have died, according to the CDC.

To increase public confusion, the CDC estimates that 3 out of 4 American children of all ages have been infected with the coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic – many of them during the winter’s omicron wave. Still, health authorities are calling for vaccination even in people who have previously had COVID-19 to strengthen their protection.

With subtypes of omicron now spreading, the United States is reporting an average of about 91,000 cases a day, compared to about 57,000 just two weeks ago. This is a small fraction of the infections seen during the brutal winter rise – but experts also say that it is a large minority, as testing has fallen and home tests are often not reported.

Vaccination may not always prevent milder infections, especially since omicron and its siblings are better than some previous variants at slipping past these defenses. However, health authorities agree that vaccinations continue to offer strong protection against the worst outbreaks of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.

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