Updated COVID-19 Booster Shots Have Been Authorized for Children as Young as 5: What Parents Need to Know

With children back in the classroom, and with the rest of us having resumed many of our pre-pandemic activities, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus continues to infect thousands of people a day in the U.S, including children. 

To protect the youngest among us from serious illness, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s new, Omicron-specific booster shot for children from 5 to 11 years old; Moderna’s booster has been authorized for children from 6 to 17. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has updated its guidance accordingly as of Oct. 12. 

“Before making an appointment for your child to receive the new booster, wait for 2 months after they received their last COVID-19 vaccine dose, whether it was the second dose of their primary series or a booster dose,” says Dr. Karen Acker, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and Assistant Attending at Phyllis and David Komansky Children’s Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.  

Another term for the updated booster shot is “bivalent vaccine.” That means it contains two mRNA components of the virus: the original strain and the Omicron variant. Clinical trials have shown that the bivalent vaccine offers more protection against Omicron than the original COVID-19 vaccine does. 

More about the Omicron variant 

The virus that causes COVID-19 has changed over time. The different versions of the virus that have developed over time are known as variants. The Omicron variant has spawned several subvariants of concern, including BA.4.6, BA.5, BQ.1 and BF.7, which account for the vast majority of new cases across the country. 

Omicron spreads much more easily than earlier variants, including Delta, which was prevalent in 2021,” says Dr. Acker. Omicron can cause reinfection with COVID-19, even in people who have recovered from a past infection.  

The data thus far indicate that the Omicron variant causes less severe illness and death compared to earlier versions of the virus, but it is highly transmissible and, in some cases, it can cause serious disease.  

Is the updated vaccine safe for children?  

According to the CDC, the U.S. has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in its history. Per the CDC’s website, the nation’s longstanding vaccine safety system ensures that vaccines are as safe as possible. As new information and science become available, the system is continuously updated and improved. 

“The COVID-19 vaccine’s side effects are mild in both adults and children,” she says. Those receiving the updated booster generally experience similar side effects to those associated with earlier versions of the COVID-19 vaccine, such as pain in the upper arm, a day or two of muscle aches, fatigue and, occasionally, fever. And all of these tend to resolve quickly. 

Keeping Omicron at bay 

As the country’s central public health institution, the CDC continues to urge everyone to get vaccinated. It is in the nature of viruses to generate variants. The flu virus has been doing that for decades, and every year, doctors urge their patients to get a flu shot.  

It may be too early to predict whether an annual COVID-19 shot is in our future, but for now, Dr. Acker says, protecting our children from Omicron-related illness makes eminent sense.  

To schedule an updated booster shot for your child, log in to Connect, or visit vaccines.gov to find a local pharmacy or other location offering boosters. 

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