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Omicron booster shots cleared for children as young as 5, CDC says

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on the updated Covid vaccines only hours after authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

Children as young as 5 can now receive the updated Covid booster shots that target the omicron variant of the virus after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off on Wednesday.

The final OK, from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, came only hours after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the updated shots.

The FDA authorized Pfizer-BioNTech’s modified vaccine for kids 5 to 11. Moderna’s shot was cleared for kids 6 through 17.

Children who have received a two-dose primary series of any vaccine and those who’ve received a booster are eligible to get the updated boosters as long as two months have passed since their last dose, the FDA said in a statement.

Both vaccines target the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants, in addition to the original coronavirus strain, in a single shot. BA.5 remains the dominant strain in the U.S., making up about 79% of all new Covid cases, according to the CDC.

In late August, the FDA authorized Pfizer’s new vaccine for use in people 12 and older and Moderna’s new vaccine for adults age 18 and older. The shots replaced the first iteration of the boosters, which were designed to target the original strain of the coronavirus.

Wednesday’s authorization comes as vaccination for the two-dose primary series in young children remains low in the U.S., although rates have improved. Only about 31% of children ages 5 to 11 have received two doses of any Covid vaccine, according to CDC data.

Similarly, the rollout of the updated boosters in older age groups has been off to a slow start, with only about 11.5 million eligible people having received one, CDC data shows.

Sean O’Leary, vice chair of the committee on infectious diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics, attributed the slow vaccine rollout in children and adults to “pandemic fatigue and people wanting to move on.”

“Unfortunately, we’re still seeing kids get sick with this,” he said.

The authorization comes as the number of kids under 18 diagnosed with Covid is rising. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that nearly 40,700 child Covid cases were reported in the week ending Oct. 6, a slight increase over the prior week.

Experts say it’s important for people to receive the updated shots because the nation could face yet another potential wave of Covid infections this winter.

The boosters are important because data has shown that any Covid vaccine greatly decreases the risk of severe outcomes from the virus, said O’Leary.

“Hospitalizations are preventable,” he said.

report published this month by the Commonwealth Fund found that if 80% of Americans got a Covid booster dose by the end of this year, approximately 90,000 deaths and more than 936,000 hospitalizations could be prevented.

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