US regulatory authorities on Thursday authorized the administration of updated doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to children under 5 years of age.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision is aimed at better protecting younger children amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the country, at a time when Children’s hospitals are overwhelmed with children suffering from other respiratory illnesses, including influenza.

“Vaccination is the best way we know of to help prevent the serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death,” Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s chief of vaccines, told The Associated Press.

Targeted booster shots against the omicron variant made by Moderna and rival Pfizer were already available to everyone 5 years and older.

Now, the FDA has authorized the use of the modified vaccines starting at 6 months of age, but who is eligible depends on how many vaccines you have received before and what type.

Only around 5% of children under 5 years of age have received the complete primary series since vaccination of the youngest began in June.

The FDA decided that

—Children under 6 years of age who have already received two original doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine may receive a single booster of Moderna’s updated formulation if it has been at least two months since their last vaccination.

—Pfizer’s vaccine requires three initial doses for children under 5 years of age, and those who have not completed the vaccination series will receive the original formulation for the first two doses and the version directed against the omicron variant for the third.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to approve the vaccine soon, the final step for its application to begin.

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