‘We need to wait for the science': Under 12s unlikely to get vaccine before Christmas

© Getty About one in three cases during Sydney’s Delta outbreak have been in the 0 to 19 age group.

COVID-19 vaccination for children aged under 12 is unlikely to happen in Australia before Christmas, experts say, but preliminary studies indicate youngsters have a strong immune response to the jab.

American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced on Monday its vaccine is safe for children aged five to 11, and it will seek US authorisation for this age group. It marks a crucial step toward beginning vaccinations for younger children.

Infectious diseases expert from the University of Sydney Professor Robert Booy said this initial study “indicates a very strong antibody response against the virus,” for this cohort.

He said data also indicates children aged 12 to 15 respond well to the immunisation and for many, one dose may be enough, noting for teenagers the rare risk of myocarditis is higher with a second shot, and more common in boys.

“But in younger children [Pfizer] is only reporting data on a few thousand participants, we need to see surveillance for safety on a few million which we will start to get in the next few months in the US,” Professor Booy said.

“Primary school children are robust and resilient and when they do get the virus, they generally get mild symptoms almost always, unless they have a chronic med problem, like cerebral palsy, lung disease or heart disease.”

The Pfizer trial tested a much lower dose for primary school-aged children – a third of the amount that is in each shot given now. Yet after their second dose, children aged 5 to 11 developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teenagers and young adults, Dr Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice-president, told the Associated Press.

The dosage also proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects than teenagers’ experience.


Video: Brighter times ahead for vaccinated people in NSW (Sky News Australia)

About one in three cases during Sydney’s Delta outbreak have been in the 0 to 19 age group, accounting for 14,102 cases for June 29 to September 20.

More than 100 schools in NSW have been closed to support contact tracing and cleaning due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 during this outbreak.

On Tuesday Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid told a senate committee hearing that the federal government acted quickly on the medical expert advice to open vaccination to children aged 12 to 15. The association is encouraging all eligible children to get vaccinated.

“We do need to wait for the science to come in because children (aged under 12) are different to adults and [in] their response to vaccines,” he told the senate select committee on COVID-19.

“Because COVID-19 is so much less severe in children, we’ve got to be very careful about the risks and benefits of vaccination in each individual age group, rather than apply a broad brush to all children.”

Professor Booy said there was “no need to rush vaccination for under 12s”.

“We will learn a lot from the data coming out of the US in the coming months, but Australia is unlikely to implement vaccination for kids under 12 before the end of the year,” he said.

Pfizer and BioNTech aim to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration by the end of the month for emergency use in the 5 to 11 age group, followed shortly after with applications to European and British regulators.

The vaccine made by Pfizer is already available for anyone 12 and older.

More than 21 per cent of children aged 12 to 15 in NSW have now received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

On Monday, 13 pharmacies within local government areas of concern in Sydney received their first shipments of the Moderna vaccine, the third brand of COVID-19 shot to be added to the rollout.

Meanwhile, NSW is set to introduce social bubbles that will allow kids aged 18 and under in lockdown areas across the state to visit their friends’ houses.

Children living in areas subject to stay-at-home orders to nominate two friends who are allowed to come to their house to play and study.

with Nigel Gladstone and AP

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