There’s “no evidence right now” that healthy kids and adolescents need COVID-19 booster shots, says the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Chief Scientist.
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) is set to meet later this week to discuss how countries should deal with authorizing and distributing third-dose booster shots. There’s a bunch of thorny issues to unpick – from global vaccine inequality to the effectiveness of the current vaccines against new variants – but one thing that sounds surprisingly clear is the WHO’s stance on booster doses for healthy children.
"There is no evidence right now that healthy children or healthy adolescents need boosters. No evidence at all," Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the WHO, said at a media briefing on Tuesday.
The WHO has said it’s especially aware that many parts of the world still have extremely low vaccination rates, while other parts have vaccinated the vast majority of their population. This divide is often split between poor countries and rich countries, with richer nations buying up three to four doses of the vaccine for their citizens, leaving little for other nations.
In their view, this global inequality of vaccine distribution further affirms the view that the focus should currently be giving shots to those who need it most. As it stands, they say the evidence suggests healthy children still have solid immunity with two doses of the vaccine, so the extra third dose could be better used elsewhere.
“The aim is to protect the most vulnerable, to protect those at highest risk of severe disease and dying. Those are our elderly population, immunocompromised with underlying conditions, and also health care workers,” Dr Swaminathan also said.
“At this point in time, our focus – considering that we still have so many unvaccinated people in the world – is to vaccinate, provide primary doses to those who've not been vaccinated so far,” Dr Swaminathan continued.
Despite this stance by the WHO, a handful of countries have already gone ahead to recommend healthy children and adolescents receive the booster shot.
Israel began offering boosters to children as young as 12 back in November 2021, while the US authorized the use of a third dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 earlier this month. This authorization by the FDA also allowed for a third dose for certain immunocompromised children 5 through 11 years of age. Currently, in the UK, only children aged 12 to 15 years old who are severely immunosuppressed or live with someone who is are able to get the booster.