Rising coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in the US are fueling fears of an uncertain summer amid new calls for childhood vaccinations.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has now recommended a booster shot for children ages five to 11 after an advisory panel voted to do so, although some experts didn’t think they should at that stage are necessary.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement that she “supports” the panel’s vote.
“To extend eligibility for booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines, children aged five to 11 should receive a booster dose at least five months after their primary vaccination course,” she said.
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha, said ABC‘s Good Morning America on Friday that parents should “absolutely” take their kids in that age group to get a boost, while ABC quoted data This shows that less than 30% of these children in the US received their first two doses.
Jha said he would be taking his 10-year-old for a refresher “probably in the next few days”.
Walensky said more than 18 million booster doses were given to five- to 11-year-olds.
“We know these vaccines are safe and we need to keep increasing the number of children protected,” she said.
The consultants considered data from the CDC that showed protection from the first two coronavirus shots diminished over time and that boosters in older age groups improved efficacy against severe Covid and hospitalizations.
The Food and Drug Administration approved booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for the youngest-ever age group.
But Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, who advises the US Food and Drug Administration, told NPR in an interview last month that he wasn’t entirely convinced.
For five to 11-year-olds getting booster shots, he said: “If there’s a clear benefit to a third dose – and to me the definition of benefit is improved protection against serious illness – then of course take the third dose. But other than that, I see no compelling reason to give a third dose now.”
Helen Keipp Talbot, a professor at Vanderbilt University, was the only member of the advisory panel who voted against the recommendation to give young children booster shots, arguing that the focus should be on increasing the overall vaccination rate in the age group.
“Boosters are great once we’ve all gotten their first round,” she said.
There are now about 100,000 new known infections of Covid-19 in the US every day, with many more likely to go unreported as fewer people require hospitalization than at the height of the first and recent waves of infection, and many are being tested and recovered at home.
Cases are rising in most states, up about 50% in the past two weeks, including among children, according to data reports from multiple outlets.
Meanwhile, the FDA is still reviewing data from vaccine maker Moderna before giving the green light to a vaccine for children under five.
“I know a lot of parents with kids under the age of five who really, really want this,” Jha said, adding he’s hoping for news from the regulator in the coming weeks.
Jha also encouraged over-50s who are eligible for a second refresher to get it now and not wait for a possible fall surge.
“There’s no need to wait,” he said, adding, “we’ll see where things are in the fall.”
Companies are already assessing the possible need for redesigned Covid-19 vaccines for the fall to target new variants of concern.
Jha has urged the US Congress to pass legislation, now stalled on Capitol Hill, that will provide the crucial means for more Covid testing, treatments and vaccine development. The President, Joe Biden, has requested $22.5 billion in new Covid funding.
“If Congress doesn’t step in, we’re going to have a lot of trouble ahead of us. We will run out of treatments, we will not get the next generation of vaccines that other countries are signing up for, we will run out of tests. It’s going to be a real challenge.” said Biden.