COVID-19: Should we consider vaccinating children?

Since the first phase of vaccines was rolled out, there have been concerns regarding the inclusion of children or young adults in the vaccination process.

This is partly due to the fact that children below the age of 16, according to experts, weren’t included in the initial trials of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Experts also indicate that the risk of children becoming very ill or dying from COVID-19 has less chance of happening.

Professor Andrew Pollard, the Chief Investigator on the Oxford Vaccine Trial, in a recent interview with the BBC noted that most children were relatively unaffected by Covid and were unlikely to become unwell with the virus.

During a study of COVID-19 mortality among children in seven countries published in The Lancet, the researchers estimated that less than two out of every million children died with COVID-19 during the pandemic. This was further confirmed by global data on the spread of the coronavirus pandemic which showed that children and young people make up only 1-2% of cases of COVID–19 worldwide.

Medical experts from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health say there is evidence COVID-19 can cause death and severe illness in children although this is rare. According to them, there is evidence that points to the fact that children may be less likely to acquire the infection.

Despite this, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising parents to get their children 12 years and older vaccinated. This according to them, will help keep children from getting seriously sick even if they do get COVID-19.

Many giant pharmaceutical companies have started and almost completed studies and trials in vaccinating children aged 12 and above. One company that has been in the spotlight and have been given the green light by many countries to supply vaccines for children is Pfizer-BioNTech.

According to Pfizer, trials of its Covid vaccines in children aged 12 to 15 show a 100% efficacy and a strong immune response. The company is said to have recruited close to 3,000 participants aged 12 and above during their phase 3 clinical trial which began in late July 2020.

 In March 2021, Pfizer- BioNTech dosed the first healthy children in a global Phase 1/2/3 continuous study to learn if the vaccine can produce an immune response against COVID-19 and if it is safe in children aged 6 months to 11 years. Another vaccine being developed by the Oxford University and AstraZeneca for the use of children was put on hold after concerns of blood clotting issues in adults who received the shot. Moderna, the US company behind another Covid vaccine ordered by the UK, has also started testing its jab on children under 11.

Vaccinating children has been justified as necessary to keep schools open, reduce the spread of coronavirus in the community and protect vulnerable children with conditions that put them at increased risk. Dr Adam Kucharski, a medical professional with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said “There’s certainly evidence of potential for transmission in secondary school ages, so vaccinating could have an impact on overall transmission.”

A number of western countries have begun vaccinating children from 12 years and above.

Canada became the first country to vaccinate children when it authorised the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15. Reports indicate that the Canadian Ministry of Health made the decision based on data from three-phase clinical trials on children that age.

Many countries including the US, Germany, China, United Arabs Emirates, France and the UK have given the green light for children to be vaccinated. Whilst some of the countries have gone all out without restrictions, countries like France require parental consent before children can be vaccinated. The Vaccine Advisory Committee in Germany recommended that only children and adolescents with pre-existing conditions should be given the Pfizer vaccine.

Most countries are administering the Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines but China has opted for and approved Sinovac Biotech’s shot for emergency use in children as young as three years.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.

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