RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Providers across Virginia are expected to start offering COVID-19 booster shots for 5- to 11-year-olds for the first time on Friday after the federal government finalized the new recommendation late Thursday. 

The FDA and the CDC are now recommending Pfizer-BioNTech’s booster for this age group five months or more after getting their second primary series dose. 

State Vaccination Coordinator Christy Gray said, heading into summer travel, it’s another tool to protect kids. Gray said, while kids tend to have more minor reactions than adults, they can be hospitalized and suffer long-term side effects from an infection.

“In Virginia, COVID cases are rising and it has been several months since our 5- to 11-year-olds have completed their vaccine series. Their immunity is waning and we really want to get those antibodies back up,” Gray said. 

Virginia Department of Health data suggests that may be a challenge. 

As of Friday afternoon, 270,825 children ages 5 to 11, or 37% of the age group, were fully vaccinated. A little more than half of that group currently meet the CDC’s criteria for boosters. Data shows 148,530 received their second dose on Dec. 20 or before. 

Reflecting a nationwide trend, this chart shows vaccination rates among 5- to 11-year-olds in Virginia have lagged significantly behind other age groups.

Gray is encouraging hesitant parents to reach out to pediatricians like Dr. Tiffany Kimbrough, who directs the Mother-Infant Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. 

“I would say we’ve seen kids affected by the omicron wave in ways that we haven’t before. So with omicron, more kids are getting infected, more kids are ending up, unfortunately, in the hospital and ICU. So this is something that is preventable by vaccination. We know 90% of kids that are hospitalized are unvaccinated,” Kimbrough said. 

Kimbrough said they’ve seen an uptick in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, which now make up about 17% of their patient population. 

For boosters, like other shots, Kimbrough said parents can expect their kids to show minor side effects like headache, muscle soreness and fatigue.

“There were no serious side effects in that panel of patients who were involved in the trial for the booster,” Kimbrough said. 

As for where to get it, Gray said look to doctors, pharmacies and local health departments. She said the state has no plans to reopen mass vaccination sites, though communities may be holding their own events, and school-based clinics will be a local decision. 

Meanwhile, the CDC is also strengthening another recommendation. Health officials are endorsing second booster shots for those 12 and older with weaker immune systems, and for adults 50 and older four months after their first booster. 

“Our priority remains unvaccinated and unboosted populations. These are the populations that are most vulnerable,” Gray said. 

To find free vaccination opportunities near you, click here or call 877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682, TTY users call 7-1-1). Assistance is available in English, Spanish, and more than 100 other languages.