As covid vaccinations of adults begin to lose momentum, thoughts are turning to whether children should receive the jab to help achieve herd immunity.The United Kingdom this week announced that young people aged 12 to 15 with severe neuro-disabilities, Down’s Syndrome, immunosuppression and multiple or severe learning disabilities will be eligible for vaccination.
Britain’s vaccine rollout is slowing, having reached 70 per cent of adults, who have been fully vaccinated with both doses.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid noted that Britain’s medicines regulator had already approved the Pfizer vaccine for youngsters aged 12 and over.
However, scientists on Britain’s independent JCVI vaccine committee have not yet looked at whether to vaccinate healthy under-18s. It is expected to look at cases of inflammation of the heart in some vaccinated children.
In Australia, Pfizer is only approved for children over the age of 18 years old but some epidemiologists have said young people may need to be included in the rollout due to the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant.
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Prior to the emergence of the variants, University of NSW Professor Mary-Louise McLaws estimated that around 85 per cent of adults in Australia would need to be vaccinated for herd immunity.
But the higher infectiousness of Delta means vaccination rates would need to be around 100 per cent among older people receiving the AstraZeneca jab, and about 70 per cent of those who got Pfizer.
Prof McLaws believes children over 11 or 12 years old should be included in the vaccination program, to make it easier to achieve herd immunity.
If children were included, it would bring down the proportion of the adult population who would need to be vaccinated to about 70 per cent. However, Prof McLaws still believes it’s better to aim for around 85 per cent to be safe.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely pointed out that Delta had taken off in the UK despite about 80 per cent of the adult population having received their first vaccine dose.
“This probably shows that you need a higher proportion of the people vaccinated in the UK,” he said.
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Prof Blakely said it was important to vaccinate as many people as possible, including children, before Australia was to fully open up.
“I think it’s an ethical thing to provide the opportunity to the whole population as children can get sick from Covid as well, even though it’s no where near as high a probability as other age groups,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that more needed to be known about potential side effects including the possibility of developing myocarditis — a rare inflammation of the heart muscle.
Other experts, including infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon of the Australian National University have raised concerns about the impact of vaccination on children.
“I do not think we should vaccinate children until we have the data on safety among children,” Prof Collignon told the Sydney Morning Herald.
University of Sydney infectious diseases specialist Robert Booy said “children are not a tool to be used,” noting that they were less likely to become seriously ill or to spread Covid-19.
Prof Blakely agreed the risks to children needed to be known before Pfizer was offered to them so parents and kids could make an informed decision.
“Definitely children as not as susceptible (to hospitalisation or death) however they can get quite sick and develop long Covid complications,” he said.
“On balance I would expect the benefits to outweigh the risks but it’s correct that kids don’t stand to gain much personally from vaccination.
“However, at a population level there’s a huge advantage to children being vaccinated as it would dampen down infections.”
Prof Blakely said if children weren’t vaccinated, schools would likely become “holding tanks of infections” and this would be hamper the ability to control transmissions.
“So if we can have some children get vaccinated willingly, it would really help when we want to open the borders or during outbreaks.”
Modelling done by Prof Blakely said if children were included in the rollout, it might be possible for Australia to open up to overseas arrivals once 60 per cent of the entire population had been vaccinated, as long as there were one or fewer arrivals a day testing positive for Covid in hotel quarantine (despite being vaccinated).
While he’s not aware of the details, Prof Blakely said he believed Pfizer trials due to report back on 12-16 year olds were expected to be “reasonably good”.
In Australia, there have been 1806 Covid cases among children aged nine or younger, and 2773 cases between those aged 10-19. There have been no deaths among this age group.
This compares to 317 deaths among those over 90 years old, despite there being just 789 cases among this age group. | @charischang2
– with AFP