Children as young as 5 can now get the updated Covid booster shots that target the omicron variant of the coronavirus after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off Wednesday.
The CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, signed off only hours after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the updated shots.
The FDA authorized Pfizer-BioNTech's modified vaccine for kids 5 to 11. Moderna’s shot was cleared for kids 6 through 17.
Children who have gotten two-dose primary series of any vaccine and those who have received boosters are eligible to get the updated boosters as long as two months have passed since their last doses, the FDA said in a statement.
Both vaccines target the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, in addition to the original coronavirus strain, in a single shot. BA.5 remains the dominant strain in the U.S., accounting for about 79% of all new Covid cases, according to the CDC.
In late August, the FDA authorized Pfizer’s new vaccine for use in people 12 and older and Moderna’s new vaccine for adults ages 18 and older. The shots replaced the first iteration of the boosters, which were designed to target the original strain of the coronavirus.
Vaccination for the two-dose primary series in young children remains low in the U.S., although rates have improved. Only about 31% of children ages 5 to 11 have gotten two doses of any Covid vaccine, according to CDC data.
Sean O’Leary, the vice chair of the committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, attributed the slow vaccine rollout in children and adults to "pandemic fatigue and people wanting to move on."
"Unfortunately, we're still seeing kids get sick with this," he said.
The number of kids under 18 diagnosed with Covid is rising. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that nearly 40,700 child Covid cases were reported in the week that ended Oct. 6, a slight increase over the previous week.
Experts say it's important for people to get the updated shots because the country could face yet another potential wave of Covid infections this winter.
The boosters are important because data has shown that any Covid vaccine greatly decreases the risk of severe outcomes from the virus, O’Leary said.
“Hospitalizations are preventable,” he said.
A report published this month by the Commonwealth Fund found that if 80% of people in the U.S. got Covid booster doses by the end of this year, about 90,000 deaths and more than 936,000 hospitalizations could be prevented.