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Healthcare

FDA considers a Pfizer booster and a Moderna vaccine for children

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are beginning this hour with new developments on the effort to protect kids from COVID. Pfizer and BioNTech just asked the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the first booster shot for children ages 5 to 11. And any day now, Moderna is expected to seek authorization for the first vaccine for children younger than 5. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us this morning. Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Before we get to the vaccine news, let's start with some new data out from the CDC about how many people, including kids, have been infected with COVID. What's the latest?

STEIN: You know, Rachel, does it feel like almost everyone you know has gotten COVID-19 by now? Well, you know...

MARTIN: A lot, yeah.

STEIN: Yeah, there's a good reason for that. The CDC data says that the omicron variant spread so fast this winter that almost 60% of everyone in the U.S. has antibodies to the virus. And that number is even higher for children - almost 75% of kids ages 11 and younger. That means lots of people have at least some immunity at this point and helps explain why the U.S. hasn't experienced yet another big surge yet.

MARTIN: OK. So 75% of kids have antibodies.

STEIN: Right.

MARTIN: That's what you said?

STEIN: Yep.

MARTIN: Does that mean these kids still need vaccinations or boosters?

STEIN: You know, the CDC says yes, absolutely. First of all, you know, one-quarter of kids still don't have any immunity. And the CDC says vaccination provides even stronger, perhaps broader, protection for those who have already gotten infected. So the - you know, the CDC is actually frustrated that most parents still haven't vaccinated or boosted their kids.

MARTIN: So we know kids ages 12 and older are already eligible for booster shots. Now Pfizer and BioNTech want the FDA to OK a booster for younger kids, too, right?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. The companies say a third shot six months after the second shot can safely pump up antibodies for kids ages 5 to 11, especially antibodies that can fight off the omicron variant.

Now, Rachel, there's a bit of mixed opinion among independent experts about whether kids ages 5 to 11 need a booster yet. Some say, look, protection from two shots clearly weakens as the months go by, especially against omicron. And while kids don't tend to get as sick as adults, COVID can still pose a danger to kids. So we should do everything possible to protect them, especially now that no one's wearing masks and the numbers are creeping up again.

But others argue two shots are still keeping kids from getting seriously ill. And the evidence boosters are definitely needed just isn't there yet. So the FDA will have to decide who's right.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, really young kids still have not been able to get even their first shots.

STEIN: Right.

MARTIN: Moderna is expected to ask the FDA to authorize a vaccine for children younger than 5 this week finally. I mean, is this going to happen?

STEIN: You know, Moderna says its low-dose pediatric vaccine looks safe and can boost antibodies to levels equivalent to the adult vaccine for kids as young as 6 months old. That said, the protection still doesn't look that great against omicron. So that's raised questions about whether three doses are really needed. That's what happened with the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric vaccine, and the FDA is waiting to see if three shots of that vaccine work better.

So while everyone's hoping to get a vaccine for these kids by this month, it now looks like the FDA's probably not going to take this up until June. And that's obviously not good news to all those parents of very young kids who are frustrated and angry that it's already taken this long to get a vaccine for their kids.

MARTIN: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein, thank you.

STEIN: Sure thing, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.