EMILY FENG, HOST:
The Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine booster for young children today, so kids ages 5 to 11 can now get a third shot. NPR's health correspondent Rob Stein joins us now. Hey, Rob.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Emily.
FENG: What did the FDA authorize exactly?
STEIN: The FDA OK'd a request from Pfizer and BioNTech for a third dose of their lower-dose pediatric vaccine for all kids ages 5 to 11 who got their second shots at least five months ago. Until now, only kids ages 12 and older and adults could get a booster.
FENG: And why now? What's the rationale?
STEIN: Well, the idea is that the protection these kids got from two shots has faded over time just like it has for older kids and adults, especially against the omicron variant. And the companies and the FDA say a small study indicates a third shot can safely boost antibodies back up to levels that would provide stronger protection, especially against omicron. I talked about this with Dr. Yvonne Maldonado at Stanford University. She helped set policy for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She notes that it's been more than five months since most of these kids got vaccinated.
YVONNE MALDONADO: So this is a really good time to really start thinking about getting those 5- to 11-year-olds their boosters. It does really make a difference for families who want to go traveling, who want to be out and about and want to protect their kids against potential complications of COVID disease.
STEIN: And that's especially important now that an even more contagious subvariant of omicron is helping fuel yet another surge. And most people have stopped wearing their masks and taking other precautions.
FENG: And do all medical experts think this third shot is needed?
STEIN: You know, Emily, it's mixed. Some do, but some say the most important thing is to get kids who haven't gotten any shots yet to get vaccinated and that two shots are still doing the most important thing - protecting kids from getting really sick or dying. Here's Dr. Paul Offit from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who helps advise the FDA.
PAUL OFFIT: I think we have to define what are the goals of a COVID vaccine. If the goals of the COVID vaccine are protection against serious illness, the evidence to date is that two doses of a vaccine for 5- to 11-year-old is protective against serious illness.
STEIN: And any added protection from a third shot probably won't last all that long. And, you know, Offit thinks it was a mistake for the FDA to skip letting his committee debate the pros and cons in a public forum, especially since most parents still haven't gotten their kids this age their first two shots.
FENG: That makes me wonder, how much demand do you think there will be for a booster for these kids?
STEIN: Yeah, that's a good question. You know, some parents will probably rush out to get their kids ages 5 to 11 a third shot, but most probably won't, you know? That's - you know, less than a third of parents of kids ages 5 to 11 have gotten their kids the first two shots. And only about a quarter of those ages 12 to 17 have gotten boosters. So, you know, we'll have to see what happens. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will consider whether to recommend parents boost all kids ages 5 to 11 or just make the booster an option for those who want or need it.
FENG: So we're talking about kids between the ages of 5 to 11. What about kids younger than 5 who haven't been able to get any shots? Where does that stand?
STEIN: Yeah, that's right. That's right. And many parents of those littlest kids are really angry and frustrated that they haven't been able to get their, you know, little ones vaccinated. They feel left behind, like everybody's moving on, leaving them behind unprotected. And the FDA is planning to finally take that up next month. And the hope is a vaccine for babies and toddlers could finally be available by maybe late June or July.
FENG: NPR's Rob Stein. Thank you.
STEIN: You bet.
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