An advisory panel to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster jabs for children aged five to 11, at least five months after completing their primary vaccination course.
The committee on Thursday voted 11 to one in favour of recommending the boosters, with one doctor abstaining.
The advisers considered data from the CDC that showed protection from two doses starts to wane over time, and that boosters in older age groups improved efficacy against severe COVID-19 and hospitalisations.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky still needs to sign off on the committee’s recommendation but signalled at the meeting that she was likely to back the additional jabs.
“We know immunity wanes over time, and we need to do all we can now to protect those most vulnerable,” Walensky said.
“It’s important for us to anticipate where this pandemic is moving and deploy the tools we have where they will have the greatest impact.”
The development comes amid uncertainty over how many parents will opt to have their children in that age group receive a third dose.
According to CDC data, just more than 29 percent of US children aged five to 11 are considered fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That represents the lowest vaccination coverage out of all groups.
The vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than five.
The US government has been pushing for eligible Americans to get boosters in the face of data that shows vaccine immunity wanes over time, and it recently authorised a second booster for people aged 50 and older.
The move also comes after the nation on Tuesday surpassed the sombre milestone of one million deaths due to COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Dr Helen Keipp Talbot, the lone committee member to vote against recommending the boosters for children on Thursday, argued 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.
On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised Pfizer’s booster shot for children aged five to 11.
Dr Paul Offit, a paediatric infectious diseases expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said booster shots in that age group would have a limited effect on the pandemic, even with evidence that the additional shots will protect against mild illness for three to six months.
“What is the goal of this vaccine? Are we trying to protect against all symptomatic infection for a limited period of time? Or are we trying to protect against serious illness, in which case all the evidence is that we are preventing serious illness” with the two-dose vaccine regimen, Offit said.
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