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What do we know about vaccine distribution for children?

by Health Desk
Published on September 21, 2021

What our experts say

In many countries around the world, children 12 and older are now eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. However, at this point in time, experts suggest that vaccines should first go to high-risk populations, such as:

  • People over 65
  • People with underlying health conditions/other serious health problems

Once these populations have been vaccinated, vaccines get distributed among the rest of a country's population according to factors such as level of epidemiological risk and health system challenges and capacity.

A large number of countries have vaccinated a substantial amount of their populations but are still seeing breakthrough cases and rising hospitalization rates, largely due to the more infectious Delta variant and large segments of the population who are not vaccinated.

One way some of these countries have tried to increase rates of protection is by immunizing young people, with many countries starting with children as young as 12 years old. In fact, the United Arab Emirates and the People's Republic of China have been vaccinating children from 3 years of age and older with the Sinopharm vaccine.

Right now, this practice is not recommended by the World Health Organization. The global health agency recommends vaccines for people 18 years of age and older, because compared to most children, that age group is at higher risks of serious illness and death from COVID-19.

Recent research from Pfizer-BioNTech and SinoVac (CoronaVac) has shown that these two COVID-19 vaccines are safe and well tolerated in youth aged 5-11 (Pfizer-BioNTech) and 3-17 (Sinovac) and also produce a robust immune response. More research is needed to address how specific vaccinations react in younger populations in different settings, but these results are promising.

While children under 18 might soon be eligible to receive these vaccines, the focus of childhood COVID-19 immunization campaigns should first be on clinically vulnerable children and those who live with vulnerable or chronically ill adults. Some children can indeed become very ill due to the virus, especially due to the impacts of long COVID-19 and the lack of data we have in different countries about how it impacts kids.

The World Health Organization-approved vaccines that have been tested in children over 12 appear to be safe and will eventually serve as a tool to help stop the pandemic given how easily young people can spread the virus and many schools are reopening to in-person learning.

Context and background

In Indonesia where the under-18 mortality rate was more than three times higher than the global average at one point, childhood vaccinations should be prioritized when the vaccines are made available to this population.

There has been a link between the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and heart inflammation issues in young people but scientists have yet to understand the cause, and even if the vaccine is part of that health challenge. The risk of this type of event occurring are extremely low in children with roughly 67 cases per million second doses in boys aged 12-17.

Used with permission by Health Desk, a public health hub that explains emerging COVID-19 science

This article was written and edited by the Tayo editorial desk and has been reviewed by an independent panel of subject matter experts.

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