Children as young as five are to be offered the bivalent Covid booster vaccine amid a sluggish roll out ahead of the winter.
All youngsters aged five to 11 years were approved for one dose of Pfizer’s updated shot today which targets common Omicron strains.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also gave the green light for Moderna‘s updated jab to be used for children aged six to 11 years.
Just three hours later the jabs were rubber-stamped by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning they can now be given to the youngsters.
FDA chiefs said they were ‘encouraging’ parents to get their children jabbed because of the higher risk of infection due to the return of schools.
But many experts have repeatedly rallied against plans to inoculate the youngest in society, pointing out they are already at a vanishingly low risk of death.
As many as 86 per cent of children under 17 years old also already have antibodies against Covid from a past infection, which can fight the virus off.
It comes amid a languishing roll out nationwide with barely six per cent of those eligible coming forward for the updated boosters within the first month.
The FDA signed off on updated Covid booster vaccines for children as young as five years today. The CDC approved the move three hours later (Stock image of their headquarters in White Oak, Maryland)
The above shows the infection rate in both the US and the UK. A rise in infections in Britain (pink) is prompting concerns that a wave may hit the US within weeks
The FDA said today that the younger age groups could get the updated booster from two months after their last inoculation.
The shots have been designed to target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which together are behind about 93 per cent of cases in the US.
The original jabs were only targeting the old ‘Wuhan’ virus, which triggered the first wave of the pandemic.
Get your booster before Halloween, says White House
The White House’s lead Covid chief said that the pandemic is not over, contradicting statements made by President Joe Biden last month.
Dr Ashish Jha, the country’s COVID-19 response coordinator, issued the warning in response to the US’ sluggish booster vaccine uptake.
‘Covid is not over, there is a lot of work to do,’ he told a White House press briefing Tuesday.
‘We still have 300 to 400 Americans dying every day, tens of thousands of people getting infected every day, there is a lot of work to do.’
Covid cases and deaths across America have been in freefall for months but many experts are concerned about a fresh surge this winter.
Dr Jha’s words counter that of President Biden, who declared last month the pandemic was ‘over’ – though his aides walked back the comments in the following days.
Dr Peter Marks, the FDA’s head of vaccine approvals, said the recommendation was made due to the return of classrooms.
‘Since children have gone back to school in person and people are resuming pre-pandemic behaviors and activities, there is the potential for increased risk of exposure to the virus that causes Covid,’ he said.
‘While it has largely been the case that Covid tends to be less severe in children than adults, as the various waves of Covid have occurred, more children have gotten sick with the disease and have been hospitalized.
‘Children may also experience long-term effects, even following initially mild disease.
‘We encourage parents to consider primary vaccination for children and follow-up with an updated booster dose when eligible.’
Signing off on the expanded booster program today, the CDC’s director Rochelle Walensky said it was a ‘critical step’ for the country.
Many experts have said there is little need to inoculate children, however, pointing out that they face a vanishingly low risk of serious illness and death from the pandemic virus.
A total of 1,300 children up to 17 years old have died with Covid since the virus emerged — equivalent to 0.1 per cent of America’s more than a million fatalities.
There is also evidence that most already have protection against the virus.
A study published last week found 86 per cent of under-17s already had Covid-fighting antibodies — suggesting they already have a level of protection.
Some experts warn over the heightened risk of heart inflammation — myocarditis or pericarditis — among the age group from the vaccines, particularly among young adults.
Up to one in 7,000 teenagers had suffered the reaction after a Covid vaccine, data suggests, although it remains much rarer in women and adults.
When the reaction does happen, however, it is normally mild with patients recovering quickly without suffering any long-term side effects.
The risks to children have prompted other countries to steer clear of recommending booster shots for younger age groups.
Both Denmark and Norway, in Europe, have already banned Covid vaccines for non-seniors, while next month Sweden will stop recommending them for 12 to 18 year olds.
Dr Ashish Jha (pictured) urged all eligible Americans to get their updated Covid booster shots by Halloween yesterday at a White House press briefing
Today’s recommendation comes off the back of a sluggish roll out of the bivalent booster vaccine.
US health chiefs have spent millions buying more than 171million updated shots from Pfizer and Moderna.
But a month into the roll out just 11.5million have been dished out — or to barely five per cent of the 216million who are eligible.
White House Covid lead Dr Ashish Jha last month blamed the slow roll out on the fact the weather was warm in September, discouraging inoculations.
He urged all eligible Americans to get the updated booster shots by Halloween, to ensure they had protection for thanksgiving.
‘I think people should get vaccinated before Halloween,’ he told the briefing.
‘Why? Well, by Halloween it takes a couple of weeks for your immune system to generate the benefit from that vaccine and that means you will be ready by thanksgiving.
‘If you miss the holiday, it is not too late to get the vaccine, so there is no time period where the window is out.’
Covid cases in the US are currently plateauing at about 40,000 cases a day.
But experts are concerned they could start trending upwards before the end of this month as colder conditions lead more people to crowd indoors.
European countries are already seeing a Covid wave, which is a canary in a coalmine for how the wave will shift in the US.
In Britain, its cases rose 14 per cent last week according to national estimates to 1.1million people being infected.