Children as young as five were today offered the bivalent Covid booster vaccine amid a sluggish roll out this winter with very few coming forward.
All youngsters aged five to 11 years were approved for one dose of Pfizer’s updated shot today targeting Omicron variants.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also gave the green light for Moderna’s updated jab to be used for children aged six to 11 years.
The jabs were rubber-stamped by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just three-hours after the FDA approval, and will now be rolled out to the age group.
FDA chiefs said they were ‘encouraging’ parents to get their children jabbed today because of the higher risk of infection amid the return to school.
But many experts have rallied against plans to inoculate the youngest in society saying they are already at a vanishingly low risk of severe disease or death.
They also warn youngsters — particularly young boys — are more at risk of suffering heart inflammation after jabs than other age groups.
It comes amid a languishing roll out nationwide with barely six per cent of over-12s previously eligible for the shots coming forward.
The FDA is facing the same accusations, following its approval of a blood plasma treatment early in the pandemic. Hospitals are no longer offering blood plasma to most patients because it provided ‘little benefit’. (Stock image of their headquarters in White Oak, Maryland)
Dr Ashish Jha (pictured) said that the pandemic is not over during a briefing Tuesday, contradicting President Joe Biden’s words last month
Covid cases have plummeted in recent months, falling from over 100,000 per day in August to around 40,000 per day in mid-October. An expected summer surge of cases did not materialize
The FDA said today that the younger age groups could get the updated booster from two months after their last inoculation.
It has been designed to target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron lineages, which together are behind about 93 per cent of cases in the US.
Get your booster before Halloween, says White House
The White House’s lead Covid chief said that the pandemic is not over, contradicting statements made by President Joe Biden last month.
Dr Ashish Jha, the country’s COVID-19 response coordinator, issued the warning in response to the US’ sluggish booster vaccine uptake.
‘Covid is not over, there is a lot of work to do,’ he told a White House press briefing Tuesday.
‘We still have 300 to 400 Americans dying every day, tens of thousands of people getting infected every day, there is a lot of work to do.’
Covid cases and deaths across America have been in freefall for months but many experts are concerned about a fresh surge this winter.
Dr Jha’s words counter that of President Biden, who declared last month the pandemic was ‘over’ – though his aides walked back the comments in the following days.
Dr Peter Marks, the FDA’s head of vaccine approvals, said today they made the recommendation due to the return of classrooms.
‘Since children have gone back to school in person and people are resuming pre-pandemic behaviors and activities, there is the potential for increased risk of exposure to the virus that causes Covid.
He added: ‘While it has largely been the case that Covid tends to be less severe in children than adults, as the various waves of Covid have occurred, more children have gotten sick with the disease than have been hospitalized.
‘Children may also experience long-term effects, even following initially mild disease.
‘We encourage parents to consider primary vaccination for children and follow-up with an updated booster dose when eligible.’
Signing off on the expansion of the booster program today, the CDC’s director Rochelle Walensky said it was a ‘critical step’ for the country.
Many experts have warned against the move, however, pointing out that children face a vanishingly low risk of serious illness or death from Covid.
Data shows 1,300 children up to 17 years old have died of Covid since the pandemic began — equivalent to 0.1 per cent of America’s million fatalities.
There is also evidence that the age group — particularly young boys — may be more at risk of heart inflammation called myocarditis or pericarditis.
A study published last week found up to one in 7,000 teenagers had suffered the reaction after a Covid vaccine.
When the reaction does happen, however, it is normally mild with patients recovering quickly without suffering any long-term side effects.
The risks have prompted other countries to steer clear of recommending booster jabs for younger age groups.
Both Denmark and Norway, in Europe, have already banned Covid vaccines for non-seniors, while next month Sweden will stop recommending them for 12 to 18 year olds.
As much as 86 per cent of children already have Covid antibodies from past infections, previous research suggests.
Today’s recommendation comes off the back of a sluggish roll out of the bivalent booster vaccine.
US health chiefs have spent millions buying more than 171million updated shots from Pfizer and Moderna.
But a month into the roll out just 11.5million have been dished out — or to barely five per cent of the 216million who are eligible.
White House Covid lead Dr Ashish Jha last month blamed the slow roll out on the fact the weather was warm in September, discouraging inoculations.
He urged all eligible Americans to get the updated booster shots by Halloween, to ensure they had protection for thanksgiving.
‘I think people should get vaccinated before Halloween,’ he told the briefing.
‘Why? Well, by Halloween it takes a couple of weeks for your immune system to generate the benefit from that vaccine and that means you will be ready by thanksgiving.
‘If you miss the holiday, it is not too late to get the vaccine, so there is no time period where the window is out.’