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Why vaccinating children for Covid-19 is not a priority

By Jael Mboga | June 14th 2021

A nurse prepares the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in Nairobi on April 21, 2021. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Kenya's biggest economic and health challenge, the Covid-19 pandemic, has been allocated Sh15.4 billion of which Sh3.9 billion will be for procuring vaccines and Sh9.5 billion for engagement of specialists, tests and supplying equipment to hospitals.

But according to World Health Organisation chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan, vaccinating children is not a priority.  

Speaking on Science In 5 podcast, Dr Swaminathan said although children can get infected with Covid-19 and can transmit the infection to others, they are at a much lower risk of getting severe diseases compared to older adults.

The podcast is created by WHO experts who explain the science related to Covid-19.

Dr Swaminathan said, "When we started prioritising people who should get the vaccination when there are limited supplies of vaccines available in the country, we recommend that we start with health care workers and frontline workers who are at very high risk of exposure to the infection."

Also considered are the elderly, people who have underlying illnesses that make them at high risk to develop severe disease.

“…start with those groups, protect them first, because we want to reduce the death rates that we are seeing today globally and then gradually come down age-wise in the population till we get to [the] children.”

The chief scientist added that while there may be some children who are at a higher risk of getting the severe disease because of some underlying illnesses, those children potentially could be prioritised for vaccines when they become available.

“But children as a group form a much lower priority group.”

Dr Swaminathan added that the majority of vaccine companies and developers are currently doing studies in children, starting with the 12 to 18-year-olds and then progressively going down to younger age groups.

The SAGE, which is the strategic advisory group of experts on immunisation that develops vaccination policy for WHO, will look at this data and make recommendations on how the vaccine should be used in children, at what dosage, what interval, whether there are any safety precautions, etc.

“But again, to go back to the point of children, except for very few children who are at a high risk, not considered to be a high priority right now because we have limited doses of vaccines, we need to use them to protect the most vulnerable.”

Dr Swaminathan said there is a need to remember that it's not necessary that children must get the vaccine before they can go back to school.

“We've seen in many countries that schools have been kept open very successfully.

As long as the adults who are working in the school environment are vaccinated and adults in the community are getting the vaccine so that infection rates start dropping, then by following the other public health measures that have been advised for school safety, schools should be able to reopen safely.”

Questioned on how the WHO will ensure the safety of these vaccines, Dr Swaminathan said the global health agency places a lot of importance on the safety of vaccines.

"In fact, we have a group called the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety. These are experts from all over the world who meet regularly and who advise WHO periodically, monitoring the safety signals from vaccines that are being used around the world and advising WHO if they want to make any specific recommendations. So, these vaccines are first put through clinical trials to assess the safety and efficacy.”

The chief scientist said vaccines are undergoing testing in children to make sure they are safe as well as effective and establish the dose at which they should be used.

Following those studies, which usually involve a few thousand children, as these vaccines get deployed in children, WHO will continue to monitor the safety through the existing adverse event reporting systems.

“All the data comes to WHO from regulatory agencies. From these global monitoring systems, we can periodically review the safety data and make recommendations if there are concerns about safety. Those will immediately lead to an alert on the usage. We will be monitoring the safety of vaccines as they get rolled out,” Dr Swaminathan said.

Covid 19 Time Series


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