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The FDA authorizes omicron boosters for kids as young as 5 years old

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

The Food and Drug Administration expanded eligibility today for the new COVID-19 boosters to include children as young as 5. And the CDC immediately recommended them. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the story.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Until now, only adults and kids 12 and older could get one of the new boosters, updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that, for the first time, target omicron. The FDA's expanded authorizations opens up the shots to younger kids. Those as young as 6 can now get the Moderna shot, and those as young as 5 can get the Pfizer-BioNTech. That's about 28 million kids who are now eligible. This comes as welcome news to many pediatricians and parents, according to Dr. Sean O'Leary from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SEAN O'LEARY: It is true that kids are less affected than adults, but it's also not correct to say that it's a benign disease in children. And unfortunately, you can't really predict who's going to get particularly sick from COVID. The booster definitely offers additional protection in terms of the severe outcomes that we really care about.

STEIN: But others question whether the so-called bivalent boosters are any better than the original shots. Dr. Paul Offit is a pediatric vaccine expert at the University of Pennsylvania who advises the FDA.

PAUL OFFIT: We have, to date, no evidence that the bivalent vaccine is any better. So it's a little frustrating as we keep moving forward without evidence. Hopefully, we'll be able to generate that evidence to show that the bivalent vaccine is clearly of value. But to date, those data don't exist.

STEIN: It's unclear how many parents want the new boosters for their kids. Only about a third of parents of children younger than 12 have gotten their kids the first two shots, and only about 15% got their kids the original booster. Jen Kates is at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

JEN KATES: I think it's going to be a tough sell. I think there's going to be a small group of parents who are ready to go. They're anxious. It's the fall. Their kids are already getting flu and, you know, other kinds of respiratory illnesses. So they're ready, but they're a minority of parents.

STEIN: Many parents say they're going to take a wait-and-see approach. And at least a third of parents of these young kids say they have no interest in boosting their kids. What's more, only about 15 of the 200 million people who have been eligible for the new booster since Labor Day have gotten one of the shots. That's alarming many public health experts. The immunity people have from their first shots and infections is fading, and yet another wave of infections could be coming, driven by new omicron variants that are even better at dodging the immune system. Rob Stein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.
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