The first COVID-19 booster shots for children 5-11 years old are now authorized by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
The decision announced Tuesday would make anyone 5 and older in the United States eligible for a booster dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and still requires signoff by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC advisory committee of outside experts is set to review the booster doses Thursday, The New York Times reported.
Currently, the additional vaccine doses intended to boost waning immunity are available only to those 12 and up.
The FDA acted on the emergency use authorization sought by Pfizer for booster doses at least five months after the original series of shots without convening a similar panel because “the request did not raise questions that would benefit from additional discussion by committee members,” the agency said in a news release.
The safety of the shots in that age group was assessed in some 400 children who got a booster dose five to nine months after completing the initial two-dose vaccine series. Pain, redness and swelling at the injection site were the most commonly reported side effects, along with fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, and chills and fever.
“While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults, the omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer term effects, even following initially mild disease,” Dr. Robert M. Califf, the FDA commissioner, said in a statement.
The shots were authorized “to provide continued protection against COVID-19. Vaccination continues to be the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 and its severe consequences, and it is safe,” he said, urging parents to help ensure their children avoid the worst outcomes from the virus.
The booster shots would come as virus cases are once again on the rise in the United States, including Utah. The Biden administration is predicting there could be as many as 100 million new COVID-19 cases this fall, and a Utah Department of Health model suggests case counts could hit 2,000 a day by mid-June.
While the vaccine’s effectiveness against infection by new versions of the virus appears to be dropping, booster shots are still seen as strong protection against severe illness that leads to hospitalization and death. But just 35% of Utahns 12 and older are vaccinated and boosted, and less than 15% of Utahns 12-18 fall into that category.