AUSTIN (KXAN) — The United States rolled out last week updated boosters for children ages 5 to 11 that are reported to have a stronger response to the COVID-19 omicron subvariants. The latest measure — approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration — comes as local Austin physicians and pharmacists predict a more intense flu season and increased risks of pediatric respiratory illnesses.

“We really want to give ourselves the best opportunity to protect our kids from having those respiratory viruses or illnesses kind of compound and get worse, especially going into what we think will be a pretty bad flu season,” said Rannon Ching, pharmacist-in-charge at Tarrytown Pharmacy.

Children as young as five years old are eligible for the updated boosters, as long as it’s been at least two months since their final primary series dose or original booster shot. Approximately 40% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 in Travis County have received their primary series, Austin Public Health officials told KXAN Monday.

Ching said vaccine hesitancy among parents might contribute to lower vaccination levels for children, along with delayed checkups during the pandemic. This comes as pediatric vaccination levels continue to decline here in Texas for other traditional protective shots, such as those against the spread of measles, mumps and rubella.

“I think with kiddos too, we want to be very careful with our kids and making sure that we’re doing everything right and doing things that will only help them,” he said.

Just like the updated adult COVID boosters are found to be more effective at preventing severe illness from the omicron subvariants, so, too, are these kid-friendly versions, Ching said. But he added it’s critical that children still complete their baseline series before jumping to the updated booster shot.

“When you look at the way that [researchers] designed the clinical trials, the booster was meant to be an additional protection,” Ching explained. “So when you look at the efficacy rates, they want you to really get that initial first and second dose because we have data on that and what that protection shows.”

Traditionally, COVID rates have shown to increase during the winter months. Paired with predictions for a more severe flu season and increased respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, Ching encouraged parents to complete their children’s primary series now so they can get an updated booster shot come December.

He also noted that both COVID and flu shots can be done simultaneously to give children a twofold advantage over contracting more extreme cases.

“COVID shots are a really great way to get yourself protected and prepared for this upcoming winter season,” he said.

Austin Public Health has information online on where to find a free vaccine near you.