COVID-19 boosters got a major upgrade (cue Beyoncé) to help protect people against the latest Omicron variants. And the updated Pfizer shots specifically are now available for kids 12 and up. (Reminder: The original Pfizer booster is also available for some kids over 5).
COVID-19 vaccination rates in children have remained low, especially in younger kids. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, only about 7% of kids under 5 had received at least one dose. About 30% of kids 5 - 11 have received two doses and about 60% of kids 12-17 years old got their primary series.
The ever-changing recommendations around COVID-19 can be overwhelming. That’s why we spoke to Scott Roberts, an assistant professor in infectious diseases at Yale School of Medicine and the associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital, on the latest on boosters.
What do we know about the updated COVID-19 boosters?
The new vaccines are called “bivalent” boosters, which means they’re made of two components: Half is the original COVID-19 vaccine and the other half is the recent dominant Omicron versions (hi, BA.4 and BA.5).
“The goal of this is really to boost our immunity against what's circulating now. And the flu vaccine does this — I think that's the best comparison. Every year, [the flu shot is updated] to whatever the circulating strains are in Australia, and then they use that as a prediction for the US. And it sounds like this is what the US is going to — an annual updated [COVID] booster based on whatever is circulating at the time,” said Dr. Roberts.
PS: Kids and adults who are eligible for the new boosters can get the COVID-19 and flu shots at the same time.
Will all children eventually need COVID-19 boosters?
Looks that way.
“The fact that this virus is constantly mutating and will escape our current immune defenses now, is really applicable to both adults and kids. So kids will need boosters at some point. How frequently and the dosing is yet to be determined,” he said. “But at some point, much like the flu, we will need an annual booster for [kids] as young as six months.” (FYI: The CDC says babies should start getting the flu shot when they’re 6 months old).
PSA: The current doses and booster recommendations for children are not the same for Pfizer and Moderna. The CDC has this tool to help you figure out if your kid needs a booster.
What is the recommendation for COVID-19 boosters for kids 12 and older?
The updated Pfizer shot is the only booster option for kids 12 and older (aka: they can’t get the original Pfizer booster anymore). They should get the new shot at least two months after their second dose or the last booster, regardless of whether the primary series was Moderna, Pfizer, or Novavax (the latest protein-based COVID-19 vaccine to be approved).
The updated Moderna booster is only recommended for adults. But Moderna is working to get the green light from the FDA to release updated boosters for teens and kids too. The company expects to have an update by the end of the year.
What is the recommendation for COVID-19 boosters for kids 5 - 11 years old?
Kids 5 - 11 should get the original Pfizer booster at least 5 months after their second dose (and only if they got the Pfizer primary series).
The Moderna booster isn’t recommended for children or teens.
What is the recommendation for COVID-19 booster for kids under 5?
The CDC hasn’t approved any booster for kids under 5 years old. But Pfizer is working with the FDA to get the go-ahead for the updated booster to use in kids 6 months - 5 years old. Moderna also hopes to get authorization for its updated booster for children.
Should I wait until there’s an updated booster shot approved for kids under 12 to get my kid vaccinated?
No, according to Dr. Roberts.
“It's critically important to be up to date on vaccination now as we enter the winter season when historically, viruses go up because everybody's indoors, there's low humidity, and school’s in session,” said Dr. Roberts. “There is solid data with very good safety profiles of these vaccines. The vaccines were never really meant to stop people from being contagious and stopping infection outright. When you do get vaccinated, your disease is much more mild. So you don't go to the hospital, you don't need oxygen, you don't risk death.”
Where can I find the updated COVID-19 booster?
The new boosters are free and available at pharmacies, clinics, and doctor’s offices. You can search a directory of sites with the new shots at vaccines.gov.
Pro tip: You can ask your pharmacy to order the updated shots. But you may have to wait a bit until those come in.
Booster shots aren’t (yet) approved for all children, but experts say even kids under 5 will eventually need a boost against COVID-19. And the CDC says kids of all ages need to get vaccinated ASAP if they haven’t yet. Updated booster shots hope to provide extra protection as we head into the winter months. But still about 41.5 million kids have not even received their first vaccine dose.
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