Will children need COVID boosters? Fauci says it’s ‘less likely.’ Here’s why

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  • Anthony Fauci
    Anthony Fauci
    American immunologist and head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

COVID-19 booster shots are now available for all adults across the U.S., offering an additional layer of protection against coronavirus variants and severe illness.

Children are not eligible to receive booster doses as of Nov. 26, and it’s unclear when or if federal health officials will expand eligibility for those younger than 18 years old.

But experts say the extra shot is unlikely to accomplish much, at least at this time.

“It is less likely that [adolescents] will [need COVID-19 boosters], because your healthy, strapping teenagers have a much better and stronger immune response than I do as an elderly person,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House chief medical adviser, told CNN on Wednesday, Nov. 24. “I gulp when I say elderly, but that is the truth.”

Children between ages 12 and 15 started receiving COVID-19 vaccines in May, while kids 5-11 years old have been eligible for the shots since Nov. 3. This means there isn’t as much data on how vaccine protection behaves over time in kids as there is in adults.

Some evidence shows protection from initial COVID-19 vaccination may wane over time in people over 18 years old, but the lack of data in children means experts don’t have any information to guide booster guidance in this group.

“It may be that [adolescents] will go a much longer period of time before [protection starts] to wane,” Fauci told CNN. “They have a very robust immune system. So, I would not be surprised that they will have a protection that will go way out beyond that six months,” when protection begins to decrease in adults.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Booster guidance as of Nov. 26 states any adult can receive a booster shot at least six months after they received their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or at least two months after they received their single dose of the Johnson & Johnson shot.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, agrees children may not benefit from COVID-19 booster shots.

“The goal of vaccines is to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. Younger individuals who are vaccinated are very low risk for this at baseline and even lower risk after they’ve been fully vaccinated,”Adalja told McClatchy News. “I do not think a booster vaccination would really benefit that much.”

“It’s also true that the vaccine seems to be even more effective in children than it is in adults, so there may be less waning as well,” he added.

That’s part of the reason why some regions, such as Britain and Norway, are only vaccinating children with one dose instead of two, Adalja said. Other reasons stem from data that shows a rare condition called myocarditis that causes inflammation in the heart is more common after the second COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Generally, children are less likely to develop severe COVID-19 and die from the disease than adults, though they can still get very sick and spread the coronavirus to others, experts say. Health officials recommend eligible children get vaccinated.

Nearly 6.8 million kids have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Nov. 18, the American Academy of Pediatrics said. The group’s latest report shows child coronavirus cases increased 32% in the week of Nov. 18 from the two weeks prior.

Dr. Sean O’Leary, the vice chair of the Academy’s infectious diseases committee, told The New York Times the jump in cases is “absolutely” a cause for concern. O’Leary blames an overall increase in COVID-19 cases in the country.

More than 231.3 million people ages 5 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Nov. 24, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker — about 74% of the U.S. population. More than 196.1 million people ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated, about 63% of the population.

More than 37.5 million adults in the U.S. have received a booster dose as of the same time, the tracker shows.

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