CDC urges Pfizer booster for children ages 5 to 11

A nurse holds vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for adults, left, and children ages 5 to 11.
A nurse holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, right, alongside a vial of the vaccine for adults.
(Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)
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Kids ages 5 to 11 should get a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday after an endorsement from an advisory panel.

The hope is that an extra shot will shore up protection for younger children as infections once again are on the rise.

“Vaccination with a primary series among this age group has lagged behind other age groups leaving them vulnerable to serious illness,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.


“We know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected,” she said.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s kid-sized booster, to be offered at least five months after the youngsters’ last shot.

But the CDC takes the next step of recommending who actually needs vaccinations. Its advisors debated whether all otherwise healthy 5- to 11-year-olds need an extra dose, especially since so many children were infected during the huge winter surge driven by the Omicron variant.

Ultimately, the committee pointed to growing evidence from older kids and adults that two primary vaccinations plus a booster are providing the best protection against the newest coronavirus variants.

“This always perhaps should have been a three-dose vaccine,” said Dr. Grace Lee of Stanford University, who chairs the CDC’s advisory panel.

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The booster question isn’t the hottest vaccine topic: Parents still are anxiously awaiting a chance to vaccinate children under 5, the only group not yet eligible in the United States. Both Pfizer and rival Moderna hope to offer vaccines for those youngest children soon, and the FDA is expected to evaluate data from one or both companies sometime next month.

Dr. Doran Fink of the Food and Drug Administration said the agency is working “as rapidly as we can” to evaluate an application from vaccine maker Moderna, and is awaiting final data on the littlest kids from Pfizer. The FDA’s own advisors are expected to publicly debate data from one or both companies next month.


But for the 5- to 11-year-olds, it’s not clear how much booster demand there will be. Only about 30% of that age group have had the initial two Pfizer doses since vaccinations opened to them in November.

CDC advisor Dr. Helen “Keipp” Talbot of Vanderbilt University said health authorities must put more effort into getting more of those youngsters their initial shots.

“That needs to be a priority,” she said.

Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, make the only COVID-19 vaccine available for children in the United States. Those ages 5 to 11 receive a kid-sized dose that’s one-third the amount given to everyone 12 and older.

In a small study, Pfizer found a booster revved up those kids’ levels of virus-fighting antibodies — including those able to fight the super-contagious Omicron variant — the same kind of jump adults get from an extra shot.

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Vaccines may not always prevent milder infections — and Omicron especially proved able to slip past their defenses. But CDC cited data during the Omicron surge that showed unvaccinated 5- to 11-year-olds had twice the rate of hospitalization as youngsters who got their first two doses.

Health authorities say that for all ages, the vaccines are still offering strong protection against COVID-19’s worst outcomes, especially after a third dose.


But some especially high-risk people, including those 50 and older, have been offered the choice of a second booster, or fourth shot.

Still to be decided is whether everyone will need additional shots in the fall, possibly reformulated to offer better protection against newer coronavirus variants.