It’s been about five months since the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children ages 5 to 11, and for children in this age group, two shots are all that’s recommended at this time.
But in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said older children (12 and older) should get a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine if it had been five months since their second shot.
So could boosters also come for the younger ones? Especially those who were vaccinated early?
Here’s what we know so far:
Yes, some experts think recalls are likely.
“Children ages 5 to 11 are very likely to need a booster,” said Dr. Paul Spearman, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (which is conducting several clinical trials of vaccines COVID-19).
Spearman pointed to new data showing that the Pfizer vaccine was not as effective in preventing infection in vaccinated children aged 5 to 11 during the recent omicron surge (although it continued to protect against serious illnesses) – data that certainly raises questions about whether a recall would increase protection.
“Pfizer is studying booster doses in this age group, so we need to stay tuned to find out how much the extra dose boosts vaccine responses,” Spearman said. “The answer may also depend on what variants arise, but in general it is likely that a booster will be recommended at some point for this age group.”
Dr. Dane Snyder, section chief of primary care pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, covered a bit more, saying it’s probably too soon to know if young children will need COVID-19 boosters — or when.
Fewer young children are currently being followed in research compared to adults and adolescents, and they were not eligible for the vaccine until last fall. All of this makes it harder to draw general conclusions, Snyder said.
Yet he also said recent data on COVID-19 vaccines in young children regarding the omicron variant raises real questions about whether a booster would help.
“Although the primary vaccines were effective in this group, the effectiveness may be lower than what we saw in older children and adolescents who received a larger dose,” Snyder said. “This may indicate that a recall will be beneficial, but more information is still needed to make a recommendation one way or another.”
Some children aged 5 to 11 are already eligible for a third dose.
The CDC already recommends that moderately or severely immunocompromised children receive a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine 28 days after their second injection. This includes (but is not limited to) children with cancer or those who have had an organ transplant.
It is important to keep in mind that an extra dose and a booster are not the same clinically. A booster is given to an otherwise healthy person who has completed their series of vaccines, but would have had the expected immune response after their first injections.
For children with weakened immune systems, the extra dose is considered part of their primary COVID-19 vaccine series. The three doses they receive are lower than those given to adolescents and adults.
What works for older children doesn’t necessarily translate to younger ones.
There’s a reason why clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine in children have been rolled out by age: physiologically speaking, children aren’t just smaller adults, and young children aren’t just miniature teenagers. A 5 year old is different from a 15 year old not only because the teenager probably weighs more and is much taller; they have different heart and breathing rates. Their hormones behave differently. Their immune system works in a distinct way.
This is why young children receive a lower dose than older children and adults. And that explains why public health officials and health care providers won’t start recommending boosters for ages 5 to 11 just because they’re now recommended for teens and teens.
“We know that boosters in older adolescents do what we hoped they would do – the booster improves vaccine effectiveness,” Snyder said. “And we know that two vaccines reduce the risk of infection and severe disease in the 5 to 11 year old age group, even in the middle of the omicron variant. But each age group needs their own research and information about boosters.
Right now, getting more children to get their first two shots is the priority.
While clinical trials are underway to determine if boosters will eventually be recommended for children ages 5 to 11, the primary goal of pediatric health experts is to ensure that more children receive their initial two shots. Adoption has been slower than health officials hoped. Some 33% of children ages 5 to 11 in the United States have received a dose of the vaccine at this stage; 27% received both.
Parents and caregivers should speak to their child’s pediatrician or other trusted health expert if they have any concerns. But they also need to understand that millions of children have now safely rolled up their sleeves.
“I think parents need to know first that these vaccines are extremely safe, and even these rare vaccine-related events like myocarditis are much less common in young children,” Spearman said. “They are also very effective, and although omicron has reduced overall effectiveness rates, we must remember that the more important protective measure is against serious illness, hospitalization and death. Current vaccines work very well in this important measure. »
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but advice may change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.