WHO Says Healthy Kids May Not Need COVID-19 Booster

There's “no evidence right now” that healthy children and adolescents need a booster dose to augment their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to WHO chief scientist, but CDC recommendations differ.

Hannah Beier/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • On Jan. 18, World Health Organization Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said the focus should be on vaccinating the most vulnerable people in each country’s population.
  • This comes 2 weeks after the CDC endorsed the use of booster shots for adolescents 12 to 15 years old.
  • Other countries, such as Israel and Germany, have also recommended COVID-19 booster doses for children ages 12 and 17.

There’s “no evidence right now” that healthy children and adolescents need a booster dose to augment their COVID-19 vaccinations, according to World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan during a media briefing on Tuesday, Jan. 18.

This comes just 2 weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized booster doses for adolescents ages 12 to 15, amid a surge in pediatric cases in the country during the current Omicron wave.

For the week ending January 13, over 981,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported in children, a 69 percent increase from the week before, according to the most recent data from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Many states, including Alabama and Michigan, are also seeing a sharp rise in child COVID-19 hospitalizations.

CDC data show that this increase has been particularly high in children under the age of 5, who are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Other countries, such as Israel and Germany, have also recommended COVID-19 booster doses for children ages 12 and 17.

Boosters offer additional protection

Two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine protect children and adolescents against severe illness — the kind that would land them in the hospital or an intensive care unit.

This includes protecting against multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a potentially serious condition that can occur in some children who develop COVID-19.

A recent CDC study found that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 91 percent effective at preventing MIS-C in adolescents ages 12 to 18.

“This medical condition can make children very ill and put them in the intensive care unit,” said Dr. Christina Johns, pediatrician and senior medical advisor for PM Pediatrics.

“The good news is that, if [MIS-C is] caught early, kids can recover. But why put your child through that, if there is a way that’s so effective at preventing it?” Johns said.

Doctors and experts strongly recommend COVID-19 boosters for children who have health conditions that raise their chances of developing severe illness, including obesity, diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, sickle cell disease, and immunosuppression.

For healthy kids, Johns said she would also recommend a booster.

“We do know that immunity [after vaccination] wanes over time,” she said, “so giving [adolescents] a booster is not an unreasonable thing to do.”

Most COVID-19 cases that occur in fully vaccinated children will be mild, but a booster dose can provide additional protection against transmission.

“With the [high] presence of Omicron, we are trying to be very careful and boost everyone we can,” said Dr. Judith Flores, a pediatrician in Brooklyn, New York.

Boosters also protect other people who are around children — older family members and neighbors, other children with weakened immune systems, and kids under age 5 who cannot get vaccinated yet.

“The main thing is to make sure that children — and adults — who are vulnerable get the primary vaccine series,” said Flores, “but they probably should get boosted in addition.”

Although Johns has no safety concerns about booster doses for kids ages 12 and older, she said if parents have any questions or worries, they should talk with their child’s pediatrician.

Vaccinating the unvaccinated first

Swaminathan said during the WHO media briefing that the agency’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) will meet on Friday to consider how countries should think about giving booster doses, with a view toward “protecting people” and “reducing deaths.”

“The aim [with boosters] is to protect the most vulnerable, to protect those at highest risk of severe disease and dying,” she said. “Those are our elderly populations, immunocompromised people with underlying conditions, but also healthcare workers.”

Overall, 60 percent of the world’s population have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data.

However, this drops to under 10 percent in low income countries — a concerning statistic that’s driving the WHO’s push to protect those most at risk before rolling out boosters to healthy populations.

“Our focus, considering that we still have so many unvaccinated people in the world, is to… provide primary doses to those who have not been vaccinated… while at the same time trying to protect the most vulnerable in every country’s population,” said Swaminathan during the media briefing.

However, even in the United States, there are many people who are unvaccinated, with children and young adults being the least vaccinated parts of the population.

More than 70 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds in the United States — and over 34 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds — have not received a single dose, according to data from the Mayo Clinic.

“We don’t have enough children vaccinated with the primary series,” said Flores, “which is my goal when I take care of patients and families.”

This story originally appeared on: Healthline.com - Author:Gillian Mohney

Recent Search