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What you need to know

  • Kids 5 to 11 who have already received the two-dose primary vaccine series could be able to get the extra shot as soon as Friday.
  • Pfizer’s data shows that the booster shot for this age group raises antibody levels against both the original COVID-19 virus and the original Omicron strain.
  • Vaccines for kids under 5 are not expected to be authorized before June.

The FDA authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 booster for kids 5 to 11 on Tuesday, just in time for upcoming summer camps and family vacations. The agency says kids in this age group can receive the extra shot five months after receiving the initial two doses that make up the primary vaccine series. Here’s what you need to know about the booster for kids 5 to 11 as well as where vaccines for kids under 5 are in the authorization process. 

When will kids 5 to 11 be able to get a COVID-19 booster? 

Kids in this age group could be able to get the extra shot as soon as Friday. The FDA authorized Pfizer’s booster shot earlier this week. Now the booster needs to receive recommendations from the CDC’s outside advisory committee and CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. The committee is scheduled to meet Thursday, May 19, to make a decision. Following the meeting, Walensky will then issue the final recommendation on the Pfizer booster for kids 5 to 11.

How effective is an extra shot for this age group?

Pfizer’s clinical trial data has shown that the booster raises antibody levels against both the original COVID-19 virus and the original Omicron strain. This is significant because data from the previous Omicron wave showed that two Pfizer doses offered almost no protection against infection in kids 5 to 11. It did continue to protect against serious illness. 

One thing that’s still unclear is how long this extra immunity from the booster lasts. Experts say it should last at least a few months—it lasts about four months in adults.

Does the booster have any side effects? 

There were no new safety concerns identified with the booster for this age group. Kids 5 to 11 experienced the same mild side effects that other people do after receiving a booster. These side effects include injection site swelling, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, chills, and fever.

Why is it important for kids 5 to 11 to get boosted if their risk is so low?

COVID-19 remains much less severe in kids than in adults. But the previous Omicron wave showed that a surge in infections can lead to more symptomatic infections among kids as well as a record number of pediatric hospitalizations. 

We are currently in another surge driven by highly transmissible Omicron subvariants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1. This stage of the pandemic makes boosters especially important, even for kids 5 to 11. The extra immunity afforded by the booster will help keep kids protected during a time when cases are rising and new variants appear to be more adept at evading immunity.

But even with this FDA authorization, only a small portion of the age group are currently eligible to get boosted. This is because more than 70 percent of kids 5 to 11 have not yet completed their two-dose primary series. Getting vaccinated is the first and most crucial step to building immunity against COVID-19 and its variants.

When will vaccines for kids under 5 become available?

Vaccines for kids under 5 are not expected to be authorized before June. The FDA has set aside three dates next month for its outside advisory committee to consider Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine applications for this youngest age group.

Vaccines for kids under 5 are part of a separate testing and authorization process because they use a smaller dosage. Moderna requested FDA authorization of its vaccine for kids under 6 in late April and was expected to finish submitting its data this month. Pfizer is expected to complete its application in June.