Do healthy children need COVID vaccine boosters? The CDC and WHO disagree

·3 min read
LM Otero/AP

There’s a disagreement between two top health-advisory agencies – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization – over whether healthy kids need COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.

The CDC recommends everyone 12 and older should get a booster in the U.S. and has authorized the Pfizer booster for those ages 12-17 after expanding eligibility for the extra dose on Jan. 5. Meanwhile, the WHO’s top scientist expressed conflicting comments on boosters for kids and teens during a Jan. 18 briefing.

“There is no evidence right now that healthy children or healthy adolescents need boosters. No evidence at all,” said Soumya Swaminathan, the international health organization’s chief scientist.

Swaminathan made that comment in the context of discussing how to prioritize administering booster doses worldwide.

“The aim is to protect the most vulnerable, to protect those at the highest risk of severe disease and dying,” she said.

She pointed to older populations, immunocompromised people with underlying conditions and health care workers, suggesting boosters be reserved for them.

The scientist said that, “considering” the large number of people unvaccinated worldwide, the WHO’s focus is to give primary vaccine doses to them while still “trying to protect the most vulnerable in every country’s population.”

So far, more than 9.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The question of “how should countries think about giving boosters to their populations” with the aim of reducing COVID-19 deaths will be discussed by the organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization committee, according to Swaminathan.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s executive director of its health emergencies program, said “for the most part,” children infected with COVID-19 “have a mild course of disease” but that those with underlying conditions potentially can experience more severe symptoms, during the briefing.

The CDC officially expanded booster eligibility to include children ages 12 and up on Jan. 5, allowing kids to get their new shots five months after receiving their initial Pfizer doses.

“It is critical that we protect our children and teens from COVID-19 infection and the complications of severe disease,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement after the decision was announced. “This booster dose will provide optimized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant. I encourage all parents to keep their children up to date with CDC’s COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.”

In addition, kids 5 years old and older who are “moderately or severely immunocompromised” are recommended to get an additional primary dose shot of Pfizer 28 days after getting their second dose, according to the CDC.

The CDC says clinical trial studies have produced results showing “a booster shot increased the immune response” and that “people should have improved protection” from COVID-19 after getting one.

Swaminathan is calling for more studies “to understand the duration of protection in different population groups after primary vaccination and after boosters,” she wrote Jan. 20 on Twitter.

As of Jan. 20, more than 82 million vaccinated people in the U.S. have received a booster dose, representing about 39% of people currently eligible to receive a booster, according the CDC data.

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