Children as young as 5 can now get an updated COVID-19 booster shot. Here’s why experts say they should
Virus can still have severe consequences for children, and new surge may be coming
Updated COVID-19 booster shots are now approved for children as young as 5 years old.
The go-ahead came Wednesday from the federal Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for children under 12 to get what’s known as a bivalent booster, targeting for the first time the currently circulating versions of the omicron variant of the virus in addition to the original strain of COVID-19.
The agencies moved quickly to authorize Pfizer’s bivalent booster for ages 5-11, and Moderna’s shot for ages 6-17, at least two months after getting the initial COVID-19 vaccination series available starting at 6 months old, or a dose of the previous monovalent booster.
Fewer than a third of Utah children aged 5-11 have completed the initial COVID-19 vaccination series, and just over 4% have gotten the monovalent booster shot, compared to less than 64% of all Utahns considered fully vaccinated after their initial shots, and just under 31% who are also boosted.
The head of the FDA’s vaccine office, Dr. Peter Marks, encouraged parents to get their children vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, saying in a statement the shots remain “the most effective measure to prevent the severe consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.”
Those consequences are affecting children, too, even though their cases largely tend to be less severe, Marks said, noting they face increased risk of being exposed to the virus because they’ve “gone back to school in person and people are resuming pre-pandemic behaviors and activities.”
The updated booster shots have been available to anyone 12 and older since the start of September. By early October, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services reported more than 116,000 Utahns had gotten the new booster shot, while the CDC says 11.5 million Americans have done the same.
Katie England, a state health and human services department spokeswoman, said Utah has 70,000 doses of the updated vaccine for the just-approved age groups either already available or set to be shipped from the federal government within the next week.
“Numerous providers will be offering the bivalent boost dose for this age group including local health departments, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices,” England said, adding the state’s coronavirus website and vaccines.gov should be updated soon with details about updated boosters for the newly approved age group.
The shots come as there’s concern there could be a new surge of COVID-19 this winter. Cases are already on the rise again in Europe. The omicron subvariants targeted in the new booster shots, BA.4 and BA.5, are still dominant in the United States, but other versions of the virus are starting to gain ground here and abroad.
An increase in COVID-19 cases would be in addition to the expected reemergence of the flu and other respiratory viruses that all but disappeared while people were wearing masks and taking other precautions after the pandemic began in early 2020.
Dr. Per Gesteland, a pediatric hospitalist with University of Utah Health and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, told the Deseret News that the state has already seen outbreaks in recent weeks of respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, as well as with rhinovirus and an enterovirus that can cause neurological issues.
So far this season, Gesteland said, COVID-19 “has been pretty quiet, relatively, especially for pediatrics. But it’s still out there smoldering along. We’re not sure what’s going to happen with that this fall and winter. So that’s kind of an unknown.”