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Does my child need the bivalent COVID booster? One expert says it’s critical to helping prevent long COVID in kids

October 17, 2022, 4:40 PM UTC
Little boy getting vaccinated at the Pediatrician's office
Experts recommend the bivalent COVID booster for kids as young as five when eligible.
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Last week, the Federal Drug and Food Administration (FDA) authorized emergency use of the bivalent booster shots for children as young as five, giving parents the option to boost their children with this new shot ahead of the upcoming holidays and predicted COVID surge

“Vaccination remains the most effective measure to prevent the severe consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a statement released last week. “We encourage parents to consider primary vaccination for children and follow up with an updated booster dose when eligible.” 

Following the announcement, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave their stamp of approval and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) said children should receive the bivalent booster when eligible. The newly authorized booster targets both the original strain of the coronavirus and the more dominant strains of COVID appearing in the U.S. from the Omicron variant, BA.4 and BA.5. 

While younger children’s risk of getting severely sick from the virus remains less than their older adult counterparts, and those with compromised immune systems or preexisting conditions, Marks notes that as the virus progresses, more children do get sick and “may also experience long-term effects, even following initially mild disease.” 

The booster was approved for those as young as 12 in late August, but still, people haven’t been running to their appointments—in part because of COVID fatigue along with confusion over whether they’re eligible. Only about 38% of kids aged five through 11 had gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine as of Oct. 5. So, should parents consider booking that vaccination appointment for their children? 

“I’m hearing from a lot of families that are saying, ‘Well, my kid had COVID, and it wasn’t a big deal, so why give them another vaccine?’” Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatrician and founder of Kidcrew Medical, a clinic focused on health care for children and their families, tells Fortune. “While it’s true that most children do have mild illness from COVID…we want to prevent those long-term symptoms. We want to prevent severe illness. We want to prevent additional people from dying from this illness.” 

Which ages are eligible? 

Moderna’s bivalent booster is now available for those as young as six at least two months after their primary shot or booster, while the Pfizer bivalent booster is now available for those as young as five at least two months after their primary shot or booster. 

What is the dosage? 

The dosage is less for younger kids for both the Moderna and Pfizer bivalent booster vaccines: Moderna’s booster for those ages six through 11 is a half compared to the dose for those 12 and older, and the Pfizer booster for those ages five through 11 is a third of the original dose. 

When can my child receive it? 

To receive the Pfizer or Moderna bivalent booster, your child must be at least two months out from their last primary or booster vaccination. 

The CDC notes that if you had COVID-19 you may consider delaying your appointment to receive a booster until three months after your symptoms started, or if asymptomatic, when you first tested positive.  

Experts also encourage getting the flu shot before the end of the month, and say knocking out both the COVID booster and flu shot in the same visit is safe and even more convenient, especially as flu season looms. 

Does my kid really need it? 

As the holiday seasons approach and temperatures drop, intimate indoor gatherings spread the virus more easily. Boosting younger children not only gives them more protection but also impacts the safety of others, Kulik says. 

“We’re coming together with our loved ones,” she says. “If we want to keep our healthy and sometimes at-risk family members and loved ones safe, being vaccinated is helpful for that.” 

Working to minimize the risk of those long COVID symptoms, like brain fog and fatigue, is also top of mind for Kulik, as well as increasing protection against Omicron. 

What are the side effects?

The side effects of the bivalent booster are mild, not anything out of the ordinary and similar to what a child may experience for other routine vaccinations.

Expect similar side effects to the bivalent booster of Moderna and Pfizer as the monovalent version and primary shot. For kids ages four through 17, this can include pain, swelling or redness near the injection site, tiredness, headache, joint or muscle pain, chills, and swollen lymph nodes, according to the CDC

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