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The latest on boosters, vaccines for kids and efficacy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Let's begin with vaccine news. As we know, federal science advisers have reviewed data on booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines. They're now officially authorized. The same officials are now considering Pfizer's application to give a lower dose of its vaccine to children as young as 5 years old. NPR's health policy correspondent Selena Simmons-Duffin joins us. Selena, thanks so much for being with us.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi. Glad to be here.

SIMON: Let's review the booster news this week. Who can and should get exactly what?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, there's a whole lot of flexibility for people. If you got a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, you are clear to get a booster of whichever shot you wish. And actually, switching to either Moderna or Pfizer might give you extra protection. If you originally got Pfizer or Moderna shots and you're over 65 or you're younger than that but have a health or work reason why you may be especially at risk, you can get a booster, too.

SIMON: Now that boosters have been sorted out, these federal scientists (laughter) just aren't getting ready to go trick-or-treating, are they?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: No, not quite. We are jumping right into another vaccine palooza here. This time, it's all about Pfizer's smaller-dose vaccine for kids aged 5 to 11. The first meeting on that is scheduled for Tuesday. But we've already gotten a peek into what's going to happen because yesterday, FDA posted on its website Pfizer's application with all of its data and the agency's brief, which came out late last night.

SIMON: What did that show?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: OK, well, first, Pfizer's data shows its vaccine is 90.7% effective against symptomatic COVID-19. And that's from a study of over 2,000 children. And there were no serious safety concerns, either. And Pfizer made the case that vaccinating this group wouldn't just prevent cases and hospitalizations among them; it should also help curb transmission in the broader community and reduce disruptions to school. So then the FDA brief said that the benefit of the vaccine is going to depend on where the pandemic is going, right? So if there's a lot of spread, it would have a big benefit, whereas if the pandemic is winding down anyway, it's a little less clear. But the analysis concluded that even if there isn't much spread, the benefits of vaccinating this age group may still outweigh the risks. And that's what advisers are going to discuss and vote on on Tuesday.

SIMON: If all goes as expected, when might children begin to get shots?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: OK, well, here's the process. The FDA advisory panel I just talked about meets and votes, then the FDA has to grant its emergency use authorization. Then the CDC weighs in. And that final step of the CDC director giving the thumbs-up isn't going to happen until November 2 or 3 at the earliest.

SIMON: Is the country ready for that? Is there going to be a repeat of the original vaccine rollout, with people getting thrown off websites and having to wait hours?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: I don't think that's likely. I mean, experts say there's going to be plenty of supply, which is a good start. Claire Hannan, who runs the Association of Immunization Managers, says she thinks everyone is pretty well prepared, but there are some differences in this rollout.

CLAIRE HANNAN: The vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds is one-third of the adult dose. It'll visually look different. It has an orange cap and an orange-striped label. And it's packaged in smaller packages.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: She says that's so pediatricians can get a few hundred doses at a time instead of a thousand, and they'll be able to keep it in the fridge for 10 weeks. They won't need ultra-cold freezers like providers did at the beginning. But then there's the question of will parents want to get their kids vaccinated? What will demand be like? So lots of questions to get into, and we will be covering all of it.

SIMON: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin, thanks so much.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.