The CDC urges use of Pfizer Booster for children ages 5 to 11.

Laurent Niergaard, Associated Press

Posted Thursday, May 19, 2022 7:30 PM EST

US government advisers said Thursday that children ages 5 to 11 should get a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly adopted the committee’s recommendation, opening a third COVID-19 shot to healthy elementary-aged children — just like what’s already recommended for everyone 12 and older.

The hope is that an additional dose will enhance protection for children aged 5-11 as infections are on the rise again.

“Primary series vaccination has lagged among this age group than other age groups, leaving them vulnerable to serious disease,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walinsky said in a statement.

“We know these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children protected,” she said.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a baby-size booster from Pfizer, to be given at least five months after the last shot of the little ones.

The CDC is taking the next step by recommending who actually needs vaccinations. Her advisors debated whether all healthy people aged 5 to 11 needed the extra dose, especially since many children became infected during the winter’s massive wave of the omicron variant.

But the US is now recording an average of 100,000 new cases per day for the first time since February. Finally, CDC advisors pointed to mounting evidence from older children and adults that the two basic plus booster vaccinations provide the best protection against the latest coronavirus.

“This probably should have always been a three-dose vaccine,” said Dr. Grace Lee of Stanford University, who chairs the CDC’s advisory committee.

The booster question isn’t the most popular vaccine topic: Parents are still eagerly awaiting an opportunity to vaccinate children under five — the only group not yet eligible in the US

Doran Fink of the Food and Drug Administration said the agency is working “as quickly as possible” to evaluate an application from vaccine maker Moderna, and is awaiting final data on the youngest children from rival Pfizer. FDA advisors are expected to discuss the data from one or both companies publicly next month.

For children aged 5-11, it is not clear how much supportive demand will be. Only about 30% of that age group have had their first two doses of Pfizer since their vaccinations opened in November.

Dr. Helen Kip Talbot, a consultant to the CDC, of ​​Vanderbilt University, said health authorities should do more to get children’s primary vaccinations.

“That should be a priority,” she said.

Thursday’s decision also means that children ages 5 to 11 with severely compromised immune systems, who are supposed to get three initial shots, will be eligible for a fourth dose.

Pfizer and partner BioNTech currently offer the only COVID-19 vaccine available to children of any age in the United States, ages 5 to 11 receiving a dose equivalent to one-third of the amount given to everyone 12 years of age or older.

In a small study, Pfizer found that a booster increased levels of virus-fighting antibodies in these children — including those capable of fighting a highly infectious omicron variant — the same kind of jump that adults get from an extra dose.

Vaccines may not always prevent milder infections, and the omicron variant has proven to be particularly capable of bypassing its defenses. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited data during the Omicron wave that showed unvaccinated children ages 5 to 11 had twice the rate of hospitalization as children who got the first two doses.

Health authorities say that for all ages, vaccines still provide strong protection against the worst outcomes of COVID-19, especially after a third dose.

Some people at particularly risk, including those 50 and older, have been offered the choice of a second booster dose or a fourth shot — and the CDC on Thursday reinforced that recommendation as well, urging anyone who is eligible to go ahead and get on the extra dose.

A decision remains to be made as to whether everyone will need additional shots in the fall, and possibly rework them to better protect against novel variants of the coronavirus.

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