Pharmaceutical company Pfizer said on Thursday that it wanted to offer its booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine to healthy children of primary school age.
US health officials are already urging everyone 12 and older to get a booster dose for better protection against new variants – and recently offered the option of a second booster for people 50 and older.
Pfizer now says new data indicates that healthy children aged 5 to 11 could benefit from another child-dose vaccine.
In a small study, 140 young people who had already received two injections received a booster six months later, and the researchers found that this additional dose generally increased their immune response. But a closer examination of 30 of the children found a 36-fold increase in anti-virus antibodies, levels high enough to fight off the highly contagious Omicron variant, Pfizer and partner BioNTech said in a press release.
The BA.2 sub-variant in the sights
Pfizer tested the booster dose for children when Omicron was booming this winter. While COVID-19 cases are now at much lower levels in the United States, in recent weeks an even more contagious version of Omicron, called BA.2, has become the dominant type locally and globally.
In the coming days, the companies plan to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize a recall for healthy children ages 5 to 11. They also plan to share the data with regulators in Europe and elsewhere.
Vaccines are generally less effective against the Omicron variant than earlier versions of the coronavirus – but they still offer strong protection against severe forms of the disease. Although COVID-19 is a greater threat to adults, young people can still become seriously ill. But regulators will have to decide if healthy primary-aged children really need a booster, and if so, when.
Pfizer’s vaccine is the only one available for children in the United States. Children 5 to 11 years of age receive one-third of the dose given to 12 years and older. Just over a quarter of young people have received two doses since the vaccine was made available to them in November, shortly before Omicron arrived.
The United States has not yet authorized the vaccination of children under 5 years of age. But some children aged 5 to 11 – those with severely weakened immune systems – are already supposed to receive three doses, to enable the best possible immune response for this high-risk group.