What To Know About COVID-19 Booster Shots for Children

Children 16 and up are eligible for a booster shot
COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccine, booster shot, booster, children's booster, pandemic, omicron

With COVID-19 infections on the rise, you may be wondering if and when your child will be eligible for a booster shot.

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Currently, children 16 and up can get a booster, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are gathering data on boosters for those under 16 years old.

So what can you do to protect your child in the meantime? Pediatrician Kimberly Giuliano, MD, explains.

When will boosters be available?

Whether to recommend a booster for those under 16, the FDA and CDC turn to data. Dr. Giuliano says the timeline for a recommendation to be announced is unknown.

“The FDA and CDC look for evidence of waning immunity to the vaccine as time passes,” says Dr. Giuliano. “They measure that in two different ways. First, they look through breakthrough cases of the COVID-19 infection in patients who have been vaccinated. And the other piece of information that they look at is their antibody levels over time.”

Children’s immune systems are stronger than adults, says Dr. Giuliano. That’s thanks to the natural development of their immune systems.

“The youngest children who are getting their vaccines right now are able to get an adequate immune response with a much lower dose because their bodies respond better to that,” says Dr. Giuliano.

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There have been reports of parents trying to get boosters for their younger kids before it’s approved. But waiting until the FDA and CDC approve boosters for children under 16 is key, says Dr. Giuliano.

“It’s important that we have the data so that we know that it’s needed. We only want to take medical interventions, whether that’s a vaccine or a medication or a surgery, if it’s going to provide benefits,” Dr. Giuliano says. “Giving us time to look at the data helps us to understand how beneficial that booster could be.”

Plus, it’s important to take the time to know if the additional doses are safe.

“We know from the data that we have thus far, that the first two doses of the vaccine are very safe for children and adolescents. We don’t know without looking at the data, how safe a third dose would be,” notes Dr. Giuliano. “So before we authorize use of boosters, we want to make sure that we know the safety and the benefits of the vaccine are both there and that the benefits outweigh the risks.”

What to do to protect children in the meantime

The best way to make sure your child is protected is to get them vaccinated. Children ages 5 to 11 can now receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have now given vaccines to billions of people across the world. Millions of people in the United States and children are included in those numbers,” says Dr. Giuliano. “We have very robust monitoring systems that have shown us that the current recommended doses of two vaccines for children under the age of 16 and three doses for children ages 16 and up is very, very safe.”

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While there are side effects that can happen with any of the vaccines, Dr. Giuliano says they are mild and less frequent than complications from a COVID-19 infection itself.

And with new variants like delta and omicron, Dr. Giuliano stresses the importance of getting a booster if you’re 16 or older and it’s been at least six months since your last dose.

“Patients who have received a booster dose have a much higher level of protection than those who have only had two doses,” says Dr. Giuliano. “So for those children ages 16 and up who are eligible, I would strongly recommend getting a booster as soon as that six-month interval has lapsed knowing that we’re seeing rates of COVID-19 really starting to skyrocket right now.”

Even if you and your child are vaccinated, it’s still important to follow the recommended safety measures.

“We all need to continue to practice those safety measures that we learned about since the beginning of the pandemic: good handwashing, wearing a mask, limiting exposure to large crowds,” says Dr. Giuliano. “And most importantly, if you’re sick stay home so that you’re not spreading diseases to other people, whether that illness is COVID-19 or another respiratory illness.”

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