The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. Children in this age group who received their last dose at least five months earlier are eligible to receive the additional doses immediately.
“Vaccination with a primary series in this age group has lagged behind other age groups, leaving them vulnerable to severe disease,” said CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
“With over 18 million doses administered in this age group, we know these vaccines are safe and we must continue to increase the number of children protected.”
The booster shot would be the third dose available for most children and the fourth dose for some immunocompromised children.
A booster dose will give children an extra layer of protection at a time when infections and hospitalizations are rising nationwide again, the agency’s scientific advisers concluded at a meeting on Thursday.
“It’s sobering that we’ve had over a million deaths in the United States from Covid infection,” said Dr Grace Lee, a pediatrician at Stanford University and chair of the Advisory Committee. on Immunization Practices, which sets recommendations for the use of vaccines, told other panel members.
In November the committee recommended booster shots for adults and in January it did so for children 12 and older.
Pfizer and BioNTech reported in April that in children ages 5 to 11, a third dose generated antibodies against both the Omicron variant and the original version of the coronavirus. In the trial, children received 10 micrograms of the vaccine – a third of the dose given to adolescents and adults – with each injection.
As with the first two doses, the recall appeared safe, the companies reported. The most commonly reported side effects were pain, redness and swelling at the injection site as well as body aches, chills and fever.
Based on that data, the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday cleared boosters for children ages 5 to 11.
About 70% of children in this age group have evidence of previous infection and may have some immunity as a result, CDC scientist Dr. Sara Oliver noted at the meeting of scientific advisers.
But some evidence suggests that compared to vaccination, protection after Omicron infection may be weaker and may not last as long.
“Previous infection may provide protection against reinfection for some time, but it’s not 100% and likely wanes over time,” Dr Oliver said.
The increase in pediatric hospitalizations during the Omicron surge suggests that acquired immunity against infection is “not sufficient to provide broad population-level protection,” she added.
Committee members debated whether to recommend that all children between the ages of 5 and 11 “should” receive a callback or only that they “can” do so if their parents or health care providers deem it necessary.
In the end, the experts voted for the strongest recommendation, after several committee members argued that there was enough evidence to suggest a booster dose was broadly beneficial in all age groups. . Dr. Walensky endorsed the recommendation later that day.
The extra dose may boost immunity to current Omicron variants in young children. Studies have shown that two doses of the vaccine provide virtually no barrier against infection with the Omicron variant in children aged 5 to 11 years, although protection against serious disease remains strong.
In adolescents 12 to 17 years old, two doses offered little protection even against hospitalization, but a booster significantly improved vaccine effectiveness.
Many parents have been hesitant to have their children vaccinated, in part because they are at much lower risk of serious illness than adults. Less than a third of children ages 5 to 11 in the United States have received two doses. Rates were lower among children from communities of color and low-income families and those living in rural areas.
But a record number of children have been hospitalized during Omicron’s push this winter. Nearly 4,000 children aged 5 to 11 have been diagnosed with a Covid-related illness called multisystem inflammatory syndrome during the pandemic. And some studies show that even children with mild illness can show symptoms for months.
Covid-19 has been responsible for more deaths in children ages 5 to 11 than many other vaccine-preventable diseases, noted Dr. Matthew Daley, senior researcher at Kaiser Permanente Colorado who leads the task force on the CDC Covid-19 vaccine.
“Most parents accept vaccination against hepatitis A, meningococcal, chickenpox, rubella and rotavirus, although deaths from these diseases are relatively rare,” he said.
At the meeting of scientific advisers, Dr. Doran Fink, deputy director of the FDA’s vaccines division, acknowledged “the continued intense interest in the availability of Covid vaccines” for children under 5.
He said agency scientists were working to quickly review data on the effects of the Moderna vaccine in younger children and were awaiting an application from Pfizer and BioNTech for the use of their vaccine in this age group.