CDC recommends COVID-19 booster for children aged 5 to 11

Move expected after FDA authorization earlier this week.

COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are recommended for children aged 5 to 11, at least five months after receiving the initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met May 19 and recommended the booster to continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The move was expected after the federal Food and Drug Administration on May 17 published its emergency use authorization for booster shots for youths who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“Today, I endorsed ACIP’s vote 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,” CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, said in a published statement. “Vaccination with a primary series among this age group has lagged behind other age groups leaving them vulnerable to serious illness. 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. I encourage parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.”

Since the pandemic began, more than 4.8 million children aged 5 through 11 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, 15,000 have been hospitalized, and more than 180 have died, CDC’s official statement said.

“As cases increase across the country, a booster dose will safely help restore and enhance protection against severe disease,” the agency announcement said.

Doctors praise recommendation

The American Medical Association (AMA) praised the recommendation, citing a CDC report about COVID-19 in children aged 5 through 11 during the Omicron variant surge of December 2021 to February 2022.

In that time, there were almost 400 children hospitalized, with three in 10 having no underlying conditions; nine in 10 were unvaccinated, and two in 10 required intensive care, according to CDC. The AMA recommended family physicians share the CDC data with hesitant parents to encourage vaccination, especially among Black children and those from underserved communities.

“The scientific evidence is clear that the vaccines against COVID-19 are safe and remain effective in preventing hospitalization and severe disease,” AMA President Gerald E. Harmon, MD, said in a published statement. “It is concerning that only one in three children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States have received two doses of the vaccine, in part because parents believe them to be at lower risk for severe disease than adults. But the Omicron variant brought about change that should alter that calculus.”

Boosters for adults

In addition, CDC strengthened its recommendation that those 12 and older who are immunocompromised, and those 50 and older, should receive a second booster dose at least four months after their first.

Over the past month there have been steady increases in cases, with a steep and substantial increase in hospitalizations for older Americans. While older Americans have the highest coverage of any age group of first booster doses, most older Americans received their last dose, either their primary series or their first booster dose, many months ago, leaving many who are vulnerable without the protection they may need to prevent severe disease, hospitalization, and death, according to CDC statement.