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Pfizer and Moderna seek authorization of omicron booster for kids ages 5-11

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The Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVID-19 boosters that target the omicron variant about one month ago. Now, vaccine companies are asking the FDA to authorize them for young children. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the story.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Moderna is asking the FDA to authorize the company's omicron booster for kids as young as 6. Right now, that shot is only available for adults. Pfizer and BioNTech want authorization for children starting at age 5. At the moment, only kids 12 and older can get the Pfizer shot. The requests to boost younger kids are being welcomed by some pediatricians. Dr. James Campbell at the University of Maryland advises the American Academy of Pediatrics.

JAMES CAMPBELL: People have said that COVID is not as severe in children as in adults, and that's certainly true. But when you compare it to other infectious diseases in children, it's quite severe in terms of putting them in the hospital or leading to - even to death. So if we have a safe and effective way of preventing it, then we would like to make that available to families.

STEIN: But as with adults, some experts question whether the new vaccines are any better than the original vaccines. The new boosters target the omicron subvariants infecting most people today and were only tested in mice, not people. And the FDA won't have any data about these new boosters from children either. Instead, the FDA will base the pediatric authorizations on data the companies collected from adults who received earlier versions of the omicron boosters, along with tests of the original vaccines in kids. Dr. Paul Offit is a pediatric vaccine expert at the University of Pennsylvania who advises the FDA.

PAUL OFFIT: Because we don't have any data that is clearly better and we don't have any experience using a bivalent vaccine historically, we may find that there was a safety issue we hadn't anticipated, which is acceptable as long as the benefit is clear. But if the benefit isn't clear, then I don't think it's reasonable to move forward with the vaccine without clear evidence of benefit.

STEIN: Pfizer and BioNTech are launching a study in kids, but the FDA hopes to authorize the new omicron boosters for kids as young as 5 before any results from that study are ready. Then the big question becomes, how much demand will there be for the new boosters? Most parents never got the original boosters for their kids, and demand for the new omicron boosters among adults has been pretty tepid so far. That's raising concern among public health experts as the country heads into a third pandemic winter, when infections could surge again, including among children. Rob Stein, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Stein
Rob Stein is a correspondent and senior editor on NPR's science desk.