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WHO experts revise Covid-19 vaccine advice, say healthy kids and teens low risk

Mar 30, 2023, 3:30 PM

A child is comforted after getting his COVID-19 vaccine....

Registered nurse Wyatt Hanvey and Melanie Mallory, who is holding son Tai Luong, 1, comfort Mallory's other son, James Luong, 3, after he received his COVID-19 vaccine at the Salt Lake Public Health Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News)

    (CNN) — The World Health Organization’s vaccine experts have revised their global Covid-19 vaccination recommendations, and healthy kids and teenagers considered low priority may not need to get a shot.

The updated roadmap is designed to prioritize Covid-19 vaccines for those at greatest risk of death and severe disease, according to the World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE).

It is being issued to reflect the Omicron stage of the pandemic and because of countries’ high population immunity levels due to vaccines and infection, the group announced following a recent meeting.

The new streamlined recommendations focus on high-, medium- and low-risk groups.

SAGE recommends additional booster doses of Covid-19 vaccine for high-priority groups such as older people, immunocompromised people of all ages, front-line health workers and pregnant people six or 12 months after their last booster dose.

For those at medium risk, the group recommends primary vaccinations and first booster doses but does not recommend routine additional boosters. This group includes children and adolescents with health risks and healthy adults under the age of about 60.

For healthy kids six months to 17 years old, the group said countries should consider vaccinating based on factors such as disease burden and cost-effectiveness.

“The public health impact of vaccinating healthy children and adolescents is comparatively much lower than the established benefits of traditional essential vaccines for children — such as the rotavirus, measles, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines,” SAGE said in a press release.

The group said its vaccine guidance is based on current epidemiological conditions and could change if the pandemic evolves.

It also comes as countries are making their own choices about vaccine recommendations based on their vaccine supply and progress.

US officials, for example, are weighing whether to offer people who are at high risk of severe Covid-19 the chance to get another bivalent booster. The United Kingdom and Canada have already begun allowing certain people to get another bivalent booster.

Experts also acknowledged competing health priorities when it comes to vaccinations.

“As we all know, the Covid pandemic has taken a heavy toll on immunization programs,” SAGE Chair Dr. Hanna Nohynek said on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tremendous effort, and many countries have done very well reaching high coverages, but it is still requiring efforts to reduce the inequities, and we need to reach the high-priority groups, and we need to close the coverage gaps.”

Nohynek said there was a need for children to catch up on routine vaccines they missed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

She pointed to rising cases of measles across all of WHO’s regions, saying that immunization programs around the world must be strengthened and restored. Measles is a known “tracer,” or a sign that other vaccine-preventable diseases are in communities.

Polio is also circulating in several countries, so WHO’s vaccine advisers recommend improving immune vaccine coverage and supplementing with a dose of injectable polio vaccine when there is “persistent poliovirus circulation.”

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WHO experts revise Covid-19 vaccine advice, say healthy kids and teens low risk