COVID-19 vaccines, boosters keep kids out of the ER: study

COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots go a long way toward keeping children ages 5 to 11 suffering from respiratory illness out of emergency departments and urgent care centers, according to a new study.

Researchers with Kaiser Permanente Southern California measured the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which was approved for use in this age group in October 2021 by the Food and Drug Administration. The study was funded by Pfizer.

The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Pediatric Infectious Disease Society, found that two doses of the vaccine were 85% effective at preventing emergency department or urgent care visits associated with the delta variant in kids aged 5 to 11. Against the omicron variant, the vaccines were 60% effective at preventing visits, through effectiveness decreased to about 30% within three months.

A booster shot, though, did as its name suggests and boosted protection against omicron-related ER or urgent care visits by 80% in the first two months after the shot, the study found.

However, a vaccine or booster for COVID-19 or any other condition only works for individuals who get it, and uptake for COVID boosters has been an ongoing problem.

“Despite protection against COVID-19 afforded by vaccination in children 5-11 years of age, vaccine uptake in this age group remains considerably lower than that observed in older populations, and novel approaches for improving COVID-19 vaccine coverage in young children are warranted,” the study said.

Researchers said more data are needed to gauge how long protection from a booster lasts in the age group, as the median time since the booster shot had been given to individuals in their study was only 43 days.

Kaiser Permanente Southern California, an integrated health system, serves more than 4.7 million members across 15 medical centers and 232 medical offices in the southern part of the Golden State. The study compared 1,992 COVID-infected children with 1,992 children without COVID. 

Using electronic medical records, researchers examined emergency department and urgent care visits for children 5 to 11 years old with acute respiratory infections reported between Nov. 1, 2021 and Sept. 2, 2022.

In cases in which children tested positive for COVID-19, 13.1% were infected with the delta variant and 86.9% were infection by omicron.

“In summary,” said the study, “two doses … were effective at preventing Delta- and Omicron-related [emergency department and urgent care] encounters in children 5-11 years of age in the first few months after receipt.”

In addition, researchers hope their research might help increase the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots for children 5 to 11 years old, and not just in the U.S.

“Notably, booster doses in this age group are not recommended in all countries, and our data from a U.S. population can help inform pediatric booster programs globally,” the study said.