The responsible experts at EMA spent a good two months examining the data on the risks and effectiveness of the vaccine in five to eleven year olds. Almost 2,300 children between the ages of five and eleven took part in the registration study for the Biontech Pfizer vaccine. According to the manufacturer, the effectiveness is 91 percent. “A particularly good value,” said the virologist Christoph Steininger to the Ö1 “Morgenjournal”.
“We will take a close look at the recommendation in the committee and discuss it in order to make a recommendation as soon as possible,” said Maria Paulke-Korinek from the Department of Vaccination at the Ministry of Health and a member of the National Vaccination Committee. The Ministry of Health expects that the first children’s vaccine doses against the coronavirus will be available across the EU towards the end of 2021, including in Austria.
Temporary solution should remain for the time being
In Europe, the vaccine from Biontech and Pfizer has so far been approved for people aged twelve and over. In Austria – for example in Vienna, Tyrol and Upper Austria – so far there are only “off label” vaccinations (the use of drugs outside the licensing area) for children under twelve. As a temporary solution, children are currently receiving a third of an adult dose.
Until the doses specially produced for children are available throughout the EU, which will take until the end of the year, the National Vaccination Committee should make a recommendation to continue vaccination using a third dose as an interim solution. The type of vaccine is the same, only the vaccine is in a less concentrated vaccine solution, and the solvent is also different, according to Volker Strenger, pediatrician at the Medical University of Graz.
Risk assessments “different from adults”
In general, his risk assessments in terms of CoV infection and illness in children “different than in adults”, so Strenger in the Ö1 morning journal. In adults, the aim is to prevent possible deaths and admission to intensive care units; in children, such cases are very rare. “Children don’t get very sick very often,” but it can still happen.
“With a vaccination, which is currently very safe and causes fewer vaccination reactions than in adolescents, the benefit predominates,” says Strenger. However, concerns should be understood, including the thought that children could not become so seriously ill anyway, also played a role. But Strenger pointed out that “it is not the case that they cannot become seriously ill”.
High numbers of infections in children
He also referred to the high number of infections among unvaccinated people, including many children. Assuming that everyone who is not vaccinated will be infected at some point, the complications may not be as common in individual cases, but overall more complications would be seen when more children become infected. “The benefits outweigh the benefits,” says Strenger.
The United States is being closely monitored: over three million five to eleven year olds have already been vaccinated there. “Even very rare side effects, such as myocarditis, have not yet been observed to an extent that would be worrying,” said Strenger. In adolescents this is a very rare side effect, in a million vaccinated there are around 70 cases of very mild myocarditis – but this has not been observed in children.
Pediatrician Zwiauer: CoV “incalculable risk”
According to Karl Zwiauer, a specialist in paediatrics and a member of the National Vaccination Committee (NIG), no childhood disease leads to as many hospital and intensive care stays as Covid-19. According to data from the Austrian Society for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (ÖGKJ), one to three children and adolescents per week ended up in intensive care units in the third wave of pandemics in April.
As a comparison, the pediatrician named measles, from which one in 1,000 infected children becomes seriously ill. “With the vaccination, we got that under control,” he stated, saying that the same result is to be achieved with the CoV vaccination of five to eleven year old children. Because CoV represents an “incalculable risk” for children. Zwiauer as well as Steininger and Strenger also cited “Long Covid” as a possible danger in the case of children.
Vienna with a pioneering role
Vienna took on a pioneering role in November with the start of “off label” vaccinations for children aged five and over. Lower Austria is also making rapid progress, with the first vaccinations for five to eleven year olds starting on Thursday. Immunization is possible in the vaccination centers in St. Pölten, Tulln and Wiener Neustadt.
In Upper Austria, children between the ages of five and eleven have also been preregistered for the vaccination for just under a week. It was officially said that there had been 2,600 such reservations as of Wednesday. In the meantime, around 1,600 children in Upper Austria have been vaccinated. As soon as EMA approval has been granted, further offers and plans are to be presented. In Tyrol, it has also been possible to vaccinate children between the ages of five and eleven since last week. To date, 1,120 children have received one dose of vaccine.
Some federal states in the starting blocks
In Styria, it has been possible to register younger children for the CoV vaccination since Tuesday using the registration tool of the State of Styria. For the time being, two vaccination appointments are planned on December 4th and 5th in the vaccination streets in Graz, Premstätten and Leoben.
In Vorarlberg there were around 260 reservations for child vaccinations by the middle of the week. In Salzburg child vaccinations are also in the “starting blocks”, said a spokeswoman for health officer and deputy governor Christian Stöckl (ÖVP). Burgenland is still waiting for the NIG to recommend vaccinations for younger children. In Carinthia, too, there is currently no possibility of making reservations for child vaccinations.
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