US expert panel backs Covid-19 boosters for children 5 to 11

A child receiving a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Louisville, Kentucky, US, on Nov 8, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - An advisory panel to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday (May 19) voted to recommend Covid-19 vaccine booster shots for children ages 5 to 11, at least five months after completing their primary vaccination course.

The advisers considered data from the CDC that showed protection from the initial two shots starts to wane over time, and that boosters in older age groups improved efficacy against severe Covid-19 and hospitalisations.

The Food and Drug Administration authorised booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the age group on Tuesday as Covid-19 cases are on the rise again in the United States.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement that she "endorsed" the vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices "to expand eligibility for Covid-19 vaccine booster doses. Children 5 through 11 should receive a booster dose at least 5 months after their primary series".

"With over 18 million doses administered in this age group, we know that these vaccines are safe, and we must continue to increase the number of children who are protected," Walensky added.

The US government has been pushing for eligible Americans to get boosted, but fewer than half of those who are fully vaccinated have rolled up their sleeves for an additional shot.

Pfizer said at the meeting that data showed a third dose of its vaccine generated a strong immune response against the Omicron variant in healthy children aged 5 to 11.

The CDC also presented safety data showing that the incidence of heart inflammation after vaccination in the age group was significantly lower than in adolescents and young adults.

Just over 29 per cent of US children aged 5 to 11 are considered fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. The vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than 5.

The vaccine committee voted 11 to 1 to recommend the additional shots, with one doctor abstaining.

Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, a professor at Vanderbilt University, was the lone committee member to vote against recommending the boosters, arguing that the focus should be on increasing the vaccination rate in the age group.

"Boosters are great once we've gotten everyone their first round," she said.

Companies are already looking into the possible need for redesigned Covid-19 vaccines for autumn to target new variants of concern.

CDC scientist Dr. Amanda Cohn said redesigned vaccines may not be available for children right away because the paediatric shots are a different formulation than what would be given to adults.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.