On Tuesday morning, the FDA announced that it was officially authorizing the use of covid-19 booster shots for children 5-11 years old. Specifically, the administration is authorizing a single, additional Pfizer-BioNTech booster dose for kids at least five months after the second shot in the initial course.
“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,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in a statement.
During January’s Omicron wave in the U.S., kids became a larger proportion of those hospitalized with covid-19 than at any other time in the pandemic. The exact reason for this rise in hospitalized children isn’t yet clear.
One hypotheses is that newer variants are more transmissible, and children simply have less immunity built up through exposure and vaccination than adults do at this point. Another is that Omicron and related variants might have mutations making them slightly more severe in young children, according to a report by Nature.
Pfizer’s vaccine is currently the only one authorized for people under 18 years old. The vaccine was authorized for use in 16 and 17 year olds in December 2021, for 12-16 year olds in May 2021, and for children 5-11 years of age in October of last year. Moderna is also seeking FDA authorization for use of its vaccine in children as young as 6 months old.
However, vaccine uptake in kids hasn’t been as strong as in adults. Only about 58% of children 12-17 years old and 28% of children 5-11 have received two covid-19 vaccine doses nationwide.
Today’s Pfizer booster authorization comes as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are on the rise nationwide, according to the New York Times data tracker and the CDC. In certain regions particularly hard hit by the current wave of Omicron and its subvariants, like New York state, death rates are going up as well. On May 5, the U.S. official death toll surpassed 1 million.
“Vaccination continues to be the most effective way to prevent covid-19 and its severe consequences, and it is safe,” said Califf. “If your child is eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine and has not yet received their primary series, getting them vaccinated can help protect them from the potentially severe consequences that can occur, such as hospitalization and death.”