Healthy children and adolescents may no longer need COVID shots, the World Health Organization said, updating its guidance on vaccines as the world adjusts to living permanently with the virus.
Older people and higher-risk groups — including those with underlying conditions — should get COVID boosters between six and 12 months after their last injections, the WHO said in a statement announcing a revised vaccine road map for the new stage of the pandemic.
“Countries should consider their specific context in deciding whether to continue vaccinating low-risk groups, like healthy children and adolescents, while not compromising the routine vaccines that are so crucial for the health and well-being of this age group,” said Hanna Nohynek, chair of the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization.
The Geneva-based organization’s latest advice comes as booster rates fall in countries from China to the US, with just 16% of Americans lining up for the latest round of shots targeting the omicron variant, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.
The dropoff won’t just have financial consequences for vaccine makers — including Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. — but is also sparking concerns among public health experts who say updated vaccinations are the best way to protect against COVID.
Healthy children between the ages of 6 months and 17 years are a low-priority group for vaccination, the WHO said, and primary and booster doses are safe and effective for them. They have typically experienced less severe reactions to COVID than adults.
The WHO said context mattered in deciding whether to inoculate younger people given the lower burden of disease.
The organization “urges countries considering vaccination of this age group to base their decisions on contextual factors, such as the disease burden, cost effectiveness, and other health or programmatic priorities and opportunity costs,” the statement said.
—With assistance from Tanaz Meghjani.