Houston hospitals begin giving Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine boosters to kids ages 5 to 11


Houston hospitals on Friday began giving booster shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 5 to 11 years old.

Texas Children’s Hospital and Memorial Hermann Health System started offering the boosters three days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved booster shots for children ages 5 to 11 who received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least five months ago. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted Thursday to recommend booster shots for children in that age range.

Pfizer has said data from its clinical trials showed the boosters could provide additional protection to that age group. Boosters have also provided increased protection for adults and children who are at least 12 years old, said Dr. James Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief and chair of Texas Children’s department of pathology.

“Based on everything we know, boosters will protect these children going forward from severe COVID and hospitalization,” Versalovic said. “And we certainly know that we are effectively boosting their antibody levels and providing sustained sustained protection for these children against COVID-19.”

The data showed booster shots significantly raised antibody levels in children in the 5 to 11 age range, said Dr. Michael Chang, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at UTHealth Houston and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. That suggests it should provide additional protection against infection.

“Getting this booster now will help those parents who want to protect their kids from infection, or potentially from long-term effects or other side effects from infection,” Chang said.

In older age groups, data has shown the protection offered by the vaccine wanes over time. It’s anticipated that children aged 5 to 11 could see a similar decrease in effectiveness over the long term, Chang said.

Parents and caregivers can schedule appointments for their children to get a Pfizer vaccine by using the online schedulers for Texas Children’s Hospital and Texas Children’s Pediatrics practices, or by calling their Children’s Memorial Hermann pediatrician’s office.

Booster shots of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have not been approved for anyone under age 18.

The recommendation for boosters comes as the omicron variant of the virus has driven a surge in COVID-19 cases in Texas and across the U.S. Texas has reported an average of 3,685 new cases per day over the past week, a 36% increase from two weeks earlier, according to data from The New York Times.

Children are also being affected by the omicron surge. The American Academy of Pediatrics said Monday that more than 5.3 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 in 2022 alone.

The COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved for children under the age of 5. An FDA advisory panel is scheduled to meet next month to evaluate the use of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for that age group.

While children are less likely to become severely ill from COVID-19, they are not immune from hospitalization or death. More than 1,500 children in the U.S. have died from the virus, with roughly 20% of them being from the 5 to 11 age group, according to CDC data.

Children who contract COVID-19 are also at risk of complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare but serious condition in which different parts of the body — including the heart, kidneys, lungs and brain — can become inflamed.

However, less than 29% of children aged 5 to 11 in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, while less than 37% have received at least one dose, according to CDC data. The percentage is even lower in Texas, where approximately 25% of kids in that age range are fully vaccinated, according to data from The New York Times.

Versalovic urged parents and guardians to get their children vaccinated, and to get boosted once they are eligible. Getting vaccinated is especially important for children who are immunocompromised or have a medical condition that puts them at greater risk for severe illness from a COVID-19 infection, he said.

Texas Children’s alone has seen 3,000 children hospitalized from COVID-19 during the pandemic, Versalovic said.

“The best thing that we can do right now is to continue to keep children’s protection as robust as possible to keep their immune systems ready to defend themselves against COVID-19,” he said.

Chang agreed. No parent wants their child to end up in the hospital with a severe illness from COVID-19, he said.

“We know that these vaccines are safe, and we know that they’re effective at minimizing the risk of hospitalization, minimizing the risk of long-term complications,” he said. “As a parent, if I’m trying to minimize those possible bad outcomes, knowing this vaccine is safe and effective … that seems to be the most easy and logical decision for me.”

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