US clears updated COVID boosters for kids as young as 5

The U.S. on Wednesday authorized updated COVID-19 boosters for children as young as five, seeking to expand protection ahead of an expected winter wave.

Tweaked boosters rolled out for Americans 12 and older last month, doses modified to target today’s most common and contagious omicron relative. While there wasn’t a big rush, federal health officials are urging that people seek the extra protection ahead of holiday gatherings.

Now the Food and Drug Administration has given a green light for elementary school-age kids to get the updated booster doses, too — one made by Pfizer for five- to 11-year-olds, and a version from rival Moderna for those as young as six.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends how vaccines are used, also signed off.

Americans may be tired of repeated calls to get boosted against COVID-19 but experts say the updated shots have an advantage: They contain half the recipe that targeted the original coronavirus strain and half protection against the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 omicron versions.

These combination or “bivalent” boosters are designed to broaden immune defenses so that people are better protected against serious illness whether they encounter an omicron relative in the coming months — or a different mutant that’s more like the original virus.

“We want to have the best of both worlds,” Pfizer’s Dr. Bill Gruber, a pediatrician, told The Associated Press. He hopes the updated shots will “re-energize interest in protecting children for the winter.”

The updated boosters are “extremely important” for keeping kids healthy and in school, said Dr. Jason Newland, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Washington University in St. Louis.

Parents should know “there is no concern from the safety perspective with the bivalent vaccines, whether Moderna or Pfizer,” Newland added.

Only people who’ve gotten their initial vaccinations — with any of the original-formula versions — qualify for an updated booster. That means about three-fourths of Americans 12 and older are eligible. As of last weekend, only at least 13 million had gotten an updated booster, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha estimated Tuesday.

Categories: Coronavirus, National News