An advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for children ages 5 to 11, at least five months after completing their primary vaccination course.
The advisers considered data from the CDC that showed protection from the initial two shots starts to wane over time, and that boosters in older age groups improved efficacy against severe COVID and hospitalizations.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the age group on Tuesday as COVID cases are on the rise again in the United States.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky still needs to sign off on the committee’s recommendation, but signaled at the meeting that she was likely to back the additional shots.
“We know immunity wanes over time, and we need to do all we can now to protect those most vulnerable,” Walensky said. “It’s important for us to anticipate where this pandemic is moving and deploy the tools we have where they will have the greatest impact.”
The U.S. government has been pushing for eligible Americans to get boosted, but fewer than half of those who are fully vaccinated have rolled up their sleeves for an additional shot.
Pfizer said at the meeting that data showed a third dose of its vaccine generated a strong immune response against the Omicron variant in healthy children aged 5-11 years.
The CDC also presented safety data showing that the incidence of heart inflammation after vaccination in the age group was significantly lower than in adolescents and young adults.
Just over 29% of U.S. children ages 5-11 are considered fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. The vaccine is not yet authorized for children younger than 5.
The vaccine committee voted 11 to 1 to recommend the additional shots, with one doctor abstaining.
Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, a professor at Vanderbilt University, was the lone committee member to vote against recommending the boosters, arguing that the focus should be on increasing the vaccination rate in the age group.
“Boosters are great once we’ve gotten everyone their first round,” she said.
Companies are already looking into the possible need for redesigned COVID-19 vaccines for the fall to target new variants of concern.
CDC scientist Dr. Amanda Cohn said redesigned vaccines may not be available for children right away because the pediatric shots are a different formulation than what would be given to adults.
(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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