The CDC just approved the updated Pfizer booster for kids 5 and older and the Moderna booster for kids 6 and up. The shots got a major upgrade (cue Beyoncé) to help protect people against the latest Omicron variants.
Reminder: The upgraded booster was first rolled out for kids 12 and older in September.
COVID-19 vaccination rates in children have remained low, especially in younger kids. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, only about 9% of kids under 5 had received at least one dose. About 31% of kids 5 - 11 have received two doses and about 58% of kids 12-17 years old got their primary series.
The AAP says COVID-19 cases among children have decreased substantially from the Omicron variant winter surge (which peaked in January 2022). But experts worry cases could rise again as we head into this winter. They say vaccines and boosters are the best way to prevent severe illness and hospitalization.
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).
FYI: Updated Pfizer boosters for kids 5-11 have a third of the dose that adults get. And Moderna shots for kids 6-11 have half of the dose that adults get.
“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: Kids 5 and older who are eligible for boosters will now only get the updated shot (aka: they can’t get the original Pfizer or Moderna booster anymore). 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 5 and older?
Kids 5 and older can get the new Pfizer 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 for kids over 12).
The updated Moderna booster is available for kids 6 and older. It should be given at least two months after the primary series was completed (whether it was Pfizer, Moderna, or Novavax) or two months after the last booster.
Head’s up: The CDC says people who recently had COVID-19 should consider delaying the next vaccine (whether it’s part of the primary dose or a booster) by three months from when symptoms started or when they got their first positive test.
What is the recommendation for COVID-19 boosters 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 as young as 6 months old. Moderna also hopes to get authorization for its updated booster for kids 6 months - 5 years old.
Should I wait until there’s an updated booster shot approved for kids under 5 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 will be available at pharmacies, clinics, and doctor’s offices. Pfizer said it’ll start shipping doses for younger kids immediately. Moderna shots are already available.
You can always 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.
New booster shots targeting Omicron are now approved for children as young as 5 years old, and experts say even kids under 5 will eventually need a boost against COVID-19. 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 nearly 42 million kids have not even received their first vaccine dose.
Updated on Oct 12 to reflect the CDC's approval of new boosters for kids 5 and older.
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