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FDA approves updated COVID vaccine boosters for children 5 and younger

New FDA-approved pediatric boosters from Pfizer and Moderna require previous shots of the original vaccine. Dr. Huang says turnout for the original has been low.
New FDA-approved pediatric boosters from Pfizer and Moderna require previous shots of the original vaccine. Dr. Huang says turnout for the original has been low.

The new Pfizer and Moderna boosters require two to three previous doses of the original vaccine. But Philip Huang, Dallas County's health director, says demand for the original has been low.

The updated vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer are combination shots of half the original vaccine, and half tweaked to match the B4 and B5 Omicron strains. Is that right enough to offer good protection at this point?

Some variants of Omicron that are currently circulating, these new Bivalent vaccines are more targeted to also protect against those. So that's what we're needing now, is that added protection against the variants that are currently circulating around the community.

The FDA has decided that children under age six will have to get two original doses of the Moderna vaccine. Pfizer's vaccine requires three initial doses. Are a substantial number of children, even in just Dallas County, eligible to move on to the updated boosters?

We've had a pretty low uptake of the vaccine among the younger population, so we've still got a lot of kids to get vaccinated still. We've had really good coverage in the older population over 65, but it is still a lot of room for vaccination in the younger group.

Why so little response?

We've said people are ready to be done with COVID, but COVID isn't necessarily done with us. And I think, you know, some parents still have this hesitancy about getting the vaccine, but these vaccines have been, you know, safe and are effective, again, especially in preventing serious illness and hospitalizations and death and compared to getting COVID itself. You know, again, it's just so much better to do that protection.

We've had recent reports of pediatric hospitals, nearly 99% full. Now that's RSV, COVID, and flu. But has this COVID hesitancy, apathy, fear, or whatever it is contributed to that recent crowding?

Combination of factors. Certainly, if we could get more of the population vaccinated, that would help slow down the spread. But also, as you mentioned, you know, we're definitely seeing these increases in flu and RSV and COVID now.

I mean, that's why now that these boosters are also available for down to six months, it's really just important for everyone to get fully vaccinated for flu or COVID and still continue to do the other protections that we can to slow down the spread. Physical distancing, wearing a mask. You're in crowded situations, you know, washing your hands. All of those things are important.

Is there any kind of organized effort to try to motivate people to take more action here?

You know, we have been doing a lot with a media agency to promote this, a lot with social media. We've been doing pop-up events and working with community partners to publicize those, particularly in the communities that have lower vaccination rates. And there's a lot of messaging that's out there.

What we've seen historically is a lot of times the motivation for people is when the situation starts to get bad and they start to see, as you're mentioning, like the hospitals filling up. And fortunately, that's sort of the situation that we're seeing now. And sometimes that is motivating also for people to get the vaccination.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Updated (Bivalent) COVID-19 Vaccines for Children Down to 6 Months of Age

CDC Expands Updated COVID-19 Vaccines to Include Children Ages 6 Months through 5 Years

U.S. FDA authorizes bivalent COVID shots for kids as young as 6 months old

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.