Published December 16, 2021
The availability of COVID-19 boosters and COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 are on the minds of many. But, with the science constantly evolving, it’s hard to know where to turn for trustworthy information.
UBNow recently asked two UB experts —Timothy F. Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Medicine and director of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and Teresa Quattrin, UB Distinguished Professor and senior associate dean for research integration, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences — to discuss these topics, and outline what you need to know.
Most people likely have heard that if six months have passed since your last COVID vaccination shot, experts say it’s time for a booster shot. But why this is recommended. Murphy, an infectious disease physician scientist, says the reason is simple.
“There is now evidence that some of the immunity that is induced by the two-shot regimen of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine and one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is waning or decreasing, particularly in people who are elderly,” he explains. “Their immune systems are not as robust as younger people and that’s the group that received the vaccinations first.”
Therefore, Murphy says the highest-priority people for getting the booster would be the elderly and also those with immunocompromising conditions.
However, he says there’s growing evidence that immunity (for getting the infection) drops off for all age groups over time. The Food and Drug Administration recently authorized boosters for all adults, and due to the newly discovered omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends the shots for all adults as soon as they are eligible.
“It is important to recognize that the vaccines work,” Murphy stresses. “The fact that we need boosters does not mean vaccines are failing. It means we are learning about vaccines. The disease has only been around for about two years. Remember, the vaccines have only been in use for about one year. So, we are learning about the disease and we are learning about the vaccines.”
Murphy notes that there are a number of vaccines for which three shots are needed — including hepatitis and meningitis.
“One of the questions people ask is, ‘Does this mean we’re going to need yearly boosters or yearly shots like we do for influenza?’ And the real answer is, we do not know yet. What we do know is the vaccines are the key to ending this pandemic and being able to go back to normal. Receiving the vaccine is the best thing we can do right now.”
Many parents are breathing a sigh of relief now that COVID vaccines are available for children between the ages of 5 and 11. Yet, there are parents who have some trepidation about the vaccines, as well.
Quattrin, a faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics, believes the pandemic has been particularly hard on the 5-to-11-year-old age group. “As much as we have all suffered from the consequences of social isolation and distancing, the youth have suffered the most,” she says. “It is nearly impossible — even if the school is very diligent — to really enforce the masking to the needed degree, and the social distancing.”
In addition to the increased protection against COVID, Quattrin sees the vaccines as a key step toward more normalcy for children, and even greater safety for the adults in their lives.
“It is important for the socialization of children,” she says. “It also has broader repercussions because they can be the ones who are carrying it to people at higher risk for complications, like their elderly grandparents.”
For those who are unsure about the vaccine or concerned about its impact on their children, Quattrin says the best option is to talk with their pediatrician or health care provider. “Pediatricians know the child best and can answer questions, and can also establish if there is any concern about receiving the vaccine.”
Quattrin stresses that parents should feel comfortable, and make their decision with confidence. “While the pediatrician is the captain of the ship, parents are the ones who steer the ship.”
How to make an appointment
Appointments for COVID-19 boosters, as well as for the initial COVID-19 vaccination series, can be made by visiting the Erie County Department of Health and Niagara County Department of Health websites. Vaccinations and booster shots also are available at the New York State-run site in Harriman Hall on the South Campus.
Parents can also consult their pediatricians for more information.