Oct 13, 2022 - Health

Omicron boosters are now available for American kids. Many won't get them

Illustration of a child looking at a giant covid virus casting a long shadow

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pfizer's Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccines are now available for kids as young as 5 years old.

Yes, but: While some parents will jump at the chance to get their children boosted, uptake of this version of the booster will likely remain low, unless there's a wintertime surge of new cases.

Why it matters: The updated shots — retooled to target the BA.5 strain that still accounts for most cases in the U.S. — could provide some valuable protection for kids amid what's becoming a rough season for respiratory viruses.

  • Already, RSV and enterovirus have surged among school-aged children, filling up U.S. emergency rooms and beds in children's hospitals, and officials have said they expect a severe flu season.
  • As cold weather sends more people indoors, health officials also warn a new wave of COVID driven by stealthy new subvariants could also be on the way in the U.S., following trends in Europe.
  • White House officials urged all eligible Americans to get a shot by Oct. 31 in order to be fully protected before the holidays, USA Today reported.

State of play: Nearly a year since the first COVID vaccines were approved for kids ages 5–11, parents continue to take a wait-and-see approach.

  • About 9 million kids in that age group, or fewer than 1 in 3, have completed their primary series of COVID-19 vaccines, as of Oct. 5, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • In comparison, 58% of kids 12-17 had completed their primary vaccine series.
  • Even among adults, uptake of Omicron boosters has been soft. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor found only 5% of adults had gotten the updated shot. Fewer than a third said they planned to get one as soon as possible.

Between the lines: Globally, uptake of COVID vaccines for kids has been spotty. Public health experts say delays resulted in them being launched at a time when the disease was no longer widely viewed as a crisis, Nature reported.

  • "The case has not been adequately made about the significant number of deaths and hospitalizations among kids," said Peter Hotez, a pediatric vaccine scientist at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, per Nature.

The bottom line: "Overall, the vaccination push will continue to be a long slog, perhaps only receiving a jolt if cases start to rise significantly and/or a new variant emerges that is more harmful," Jen Kates, Kaiser Family Foundation's director of global health and HIV policy, tweeted.

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