A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientific advisory committee voted Thursday to recommend a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, giving millions of kids the opportunity for increased protection against COVID-19.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on the recommendation Thursday evening.
The decision also means immunocompromised children who have already received a third dose are eligible to receive a fourth shot.
Two days ago, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 booster shot for this age group. The news comes as it becomes increasingly clear that vaccine protection against infection wanes over time.
The booster dose will be available to children five months after completing their primary series of two shots, so children who received their second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before Dec. 19 are now eligible for a booster.
Previously, a third Pfizer dose was recommended only for children 5 to 11 who were moderately to severely immunocompromised.
The most common side effects after the booster were pain, redness or swelling where the shot was given; tiredness; fever; or a headache – all of which typically resolved within a few days.
Many of the committee's questions to CDC staff were about myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that is a rare but known potential side effect of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.
Out of 18.1 million children ages 5 through 11 who have gotten the Pfizer vaccine, there have been 20 confirmed cases of myocarditis and one death, said Dr. Tom Shimabukuro with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine coordination unit.
The only vaccine for children
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine thus far authorized for younger children. Children 11 and under get a dose that is one-third the amount given to adults.
The companies submitted for an emergency use authorization from the FDA last month after a study found healthy children in that age group had a safe and strong immune response to the booster.
The booster dose will help protect children against infection with the omicron variant, experts told the panel.
While two doses of the vaccine are highly protective against severe COVID-19 disease in children, they do not result in strong protection against catching omicron, research suggests.
Three months after getting the second dose, protection against symptomatic infection with omicron was “no longer significant,” said Ruth Link-Gelles, program lead for the COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness epidemiology task force at CDC.
COVID has killed nearly 200 children age 5 - 11
Data presented during Thursday's meeting shows that over the course of the pandemic, 189 children between 5 and 11 have died of COVID-19, accounting for 2.5% of all deaths among kids in that age group.
Only 28% of kids ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a rate much lower than the overall population, according to the CDC.
Between March 1 and May 8, when omicron was the predominant strain in the United States, there were 4.8 million cases of COVID-19 among children ages 5 to 11.
During omicron, COVID-19 hospitalization rates among unvaccinated children ages 5 to 11 were twice as high as rates among vaccinated children, the data says.
Unvaccinated children 12 or under who got COVID-19 had a 20 times greater risk of dying in February compared with children who had been vaccinated, the CDC said.
Contributing: Ken Alltucker
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID vaccine booster for kids 5-11: CDC OKs 3rd dose