What parents need to know about Omicron-specific COVID boosters for children 6 months and older

Young child watches as bandages are applied to arm after Omicron Covid booster injection.

Omicron Specific Booster: Children as young as 6 months are now eligible for the updated COVID-19 vaccine. (Getty Images)

Children as young as 6 months old are now eligible for the updated Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 8 authorized the use of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s bivalent boosters in this younger age group, just as the country is experiencing a “triple epidemic” of COVID, the flu and RSV.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children 6 months and older receive COVID-19 vaccinations without contraindications, vaccination rates for young children remain low. About 15.2 million children ages 6 months to 4 years have not yet received their first dose of COVID vaccine, according to the AAP, which notes that childhood vaccination rates “vary widely between states, ranging from 2% to 38% that receive their first dose. ”

So what should parents know about the bivalent boosters for young children? And why are vaccination rates in children under 5 lagging behind? Here’s what experts say.

For children, who is eligible for the Omicron specific booster?

Children 6 months and older are now eligible for the bivalent booster. However, those ages 6 months through 5 years should only receive the bivalent booster as their first booster dose — two months after completing their first two doses, Dr. Thomas Giordano, professor and chief of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life.

“For those who received two doses of Moderna, children 6 months to 5 years old can receive a bivalent boost with either Pfizer or Moderna,” Dr. Aaron Milstone, professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Yahoo Life.

However, according to the FDA, children 6 months to 4 years old who already had their three-dose primary series of the original (non-bivalent) Pfizer vaccine are not yet eligible for the updated bivalent booster. Data to determine whether those children should receive an updated booster shot will be available in January.

How safe is the booster for young children?

The FDA’s approval of the bivalent booster for children was based on adult data, but experts say the vaccine is safe for children. “The FDA based the decision on the very impressive safety data seen in all other age groups who received these vaccines,” Giordano explains. “I understand that some parents may be hesitant because of this, but these vaccines are incredibly safe. With Omicron back on the upswing, this adjustment in vaccine components wouldn’t be a concern to me as a parent.

Milstone says parents should weigh the “risks and benefits” of vaccinating their children. “Serious illnesses have declined since the introduction of the vaccine, as have cases of MIS-C in children,” he says, referring to multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a condition related to the virus that causes COVID-19, in which various parts of the body, including the heart, lungs and brain become inflamed. “The vaccine and booster provide children with the best possible protection against current and future variants.”

How important is it for children to get the booster?

While children are less likely to get sick from COVID-19, says Giordano, “they can still get sick and infect other people in the household. Getting a boost now can prevent the fortunately relatively rare outcome of the child with a serious illness, and it will also help children miss less school and parents miss less work because the severity of the illness can be reduced.

While Giordano notes that there hasn’t been much human research on how well the vaccines protect against the latest BQ variants currently in circulation, “the data from test tubes and lab studies suggest that protection against serious disease should still be very good. to be. ”

Milstone agrees, adding that “data suggest that vaccines and boosters still provide protection against serious disease.”

Why are COVID vaccination rates for young children still low?

Experts say there are several factors that influence childhood vaccination rates. “Fortunately, serious illness is less common in young children, so some parents may not think the need is as great,” says Giordano. “Some parents think the vaccines could harm children in the long run. The vaccines for children were also the last approved, and by then some of the enthusiasm for vaccines had waned, even though the need had not necessarily changed.

However, Giordano explains that “the probability of short-term harm is very low and there is nothing to indicate long-term harm, and the potential for benefit is real. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, is not going away from humans any time soon.”

Milstone agrees, saying the risks of the vaccines have been “small but blown out of proportion by fear and misinformation”. From a public health standpoint, he says, “the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.”

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