Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for children between the ages of 5 and 11 who received their second vaccine shot at least five months ago. So far, only the Pfizer-BioNTech booster has been authorized for those in this age group.
"While it has largely been the case that COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than adults," said FDA commissioner Robert Califf in a statement, "the omicron wave has seen more kids getting sick with the disease and being hospitalized, and children may also experience longer-term effects, even following initially mild disease."
The booster can provide kids with an extra dose of protection, experts say, especially with overall cases and hospitalization rising across the country.
To provide accurate information about the newly approved third shot and to help allay the concerns of parents, Dr. Annabelle de St. Maurice, an assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases and co-chief infection prevention officer for UCLA Health, answered some questions about the safety of the booster and why getting one is important.
Is the booster safe?
Yes. The FDA has authorized the booster for children based on an evaluation of the risks and benefits, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has also recommended the new booster dose.
Children get a lower dose of the COVID-19 vaccine than adults. Is it the same with the booster? If so, why is the dosage lower?
While the dosage is lower in children, the vaccine and booster components are the same. The dosage is lower because young children are smaller in weight than adults.
Are there risks to children? Are there potential side effects?
Some children may have mild side effects like a sore arm, fatigue, pain at the injection site, headache or fever within two days of receiving the booster. These symptoms do not last long and resolve with over-the-counter medications.
If a child has had COVID-19, should they still get the booster?
If your child had COVID-19 and was previously vaccinated, they may not need a booster right away because the infection acts similarly to a booster by boosting your immune response to your prior infection. Generally, individuals who had a recent infection can wait up to 90 days before getting boosted per CDC guidelines.
It is still recommended that kids get vaccinated if they had a prior infection. Data have demonstrated improved protection against subsequent infection and hospitalization in individuals who had COVID-19 and were boosted.
Will the booster provide additional protection against the newer variants?
This booster contains the same active ingredients as the original vaccine and is not targeted towards new variants. We will have to continue studying the impact of boosters on vaccine efficacy as new variants emerge. However, thus far, vaccines have proven effective at reducing hospitalization and death in vaccinated individuals even as new variants have emerged.
The most important thing is that children receive the primary vaccine series.