Children ages 5 to 11 should receive a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, US government advisers said Thursday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly adopted the group’s recommendation, opening up a third COVID-19 shot for healthy young children — just as it’s already recommended for everyone 12 years of age and older.
It is hoped that the extra shot will bolster protection for children aged 5 to 11 as the number of infections rises again.
“Primary series vaccination among this age group lags behind other age groups, making them vulnerable to serious illness,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
“We know these vaccines are safe and we must continue to increase the number of protected children,” she said.
Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of the Pfizer booster for children at least five months after the last vaccination.
The CDC is taking the next step by recommending who really needs vaccinations. His consultants debated whether all otherwise healthy children between the ages of 5 and 11 needed an extra dose, especially since so many children were infected during the huge winter surge of the micromicron variant.
But the US is now averaging 100,000 new cases a day for the first time since February. And ultimately, CDC advisers pointed to the growing evidence from older children and adults that two primary shots plus a booster provide the best protection against the latest coronavirus variants.
“Maybe it always should have been a three-dose vaccine,” said Dr. Grace Lee of Stanford University, who leads the CDC advisory group.
The question of revaccination is not the hottest topic of vaccination: parents still look forward to being able to vaccinate children under 5 years old – the only group that is not yet eligible in the US.
Dr. Doran Fink of the Food and Drug Administration said the agency is working “as quickly as possible” to evaluate vaccine maker Moderna’s application and is awaiting final data on the youngest children from rival Pfizer. FDA advisers are expected to publicly discuss the data from one or both companies next month.
As for kids aged 5 to 11, it’s not clear how big the demand for boosters is. Only about 30% of this age group have received their first two doses of Pfizer since vaccination was opened to them in November.
CDC adviser Dr. Helen Cuypp Talbot of Vanderbilt University said health authorities should do more to get the initial vaccinations for young people.
“This should be a priority,” she said.
Thursday’s decision also means that children ages 5 to 11 with severely weakened immune systems who are due to receive three initial shots will be eligible for a fourth dose.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are currently producing the only COVID-19 vaccine available for children of all ages in the US. Those 5 to 11 years of age receive a dose that is one third of the dose administered to all 12 years of age and older.
In a small study, Pfizer found that the booster boosted virus-fighting antibody levels in children, including those able to fight the super-contagious omicron variant, the same boost adults get from an extra shot.
Vaccines can’t always prevent milder infections, and the omicron variant has been particularly able to bypass their defenses. But the CDC cited data during the omicron surge that showed that unvaccinated children aged 5 to 11 had twice the rate of hospitalizations than young adults who received their first two doses.
Health authorities say vaccines for all ages continue to provide strong protection against the worst effects of COVID-19, especially after the third dose.
Some people at particularly high risk, including those aged 50 and older, have been offered the choice of a second booster dose or a fourth shot — and the CDC on Thursday also stepped up that recommendation, urging everyone who is eligible to go ahead and get the extra dose. . .
It remains to be decided whether everyone will need additional shots in the fall, perhaps reformulated to provide better protection against new coronavirus variants.