International experts call for a “thorough examination” before vaccinating children under 12 years of age
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According to a new review by international pediatric vaccine experts, any decision to vaccinate all children under 12 years of age against COVID-19 should be made “with due caution,” with detailed consideration of the risks and benefits.
The review, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (Australia) and the University of Freiburg (Germany), does not argue for or against vaccinating children against COVID-19 but highlights points to consider and the complexity of policy decisions surrounding vaccination of this age group.
Specifically, the article, published in the journal ‘Archives of Disease in Childhood,’ states that although mass vaccination against COVID-19 at all ages could become the standard approach globally, it was essential to look at all the arguments around vaccinating young children.
“Whether all children under 12 years of age should be vaccinated against COVID-19 remains an open scientific question. The balance between the risks and benefits of vaccination against COVID-19 in children is more complex than in adults, as the relative harms of vaccination and disease are less well established in this age group,” explains one of the review’s authors, Nigel Curtis.
Apart from preventing the small minority of children who become seriously ill with COVID-19, the key arguments for vaccinating healthy children were to protect them from long-term consequences, such as persistent COVID-19 and rare cases of the multisystem inflammatory syndrome, as well as to reduce transmission in the community and help prevent school closures and the indirect harms of closures.
“Vaccinating adults and adolescents is already decreasing community transmission and, consequently, reducing severe cases and the risk of new variants of the virus emerging. Vaccinating young children could also help further reduce the indirect harms caused by quarantine, confinements, retesting and school closures,” said another author of the paper, Petra Zimmermann.
The review also points out that if COVID-19 remained a generally mild disease in children, it might not be necessary to vaccinate all children under 12, which would reduce exposure to the vaccine’s rare side effects, help improve the global vaccine supply, and avoid any impact on routine immunization programs.
Thus, they say it is vital to consider decisions about vaccines for infants, young children, and adolescents separately and that data on efficacy and adverse effects be continually reviewed.
“More data are needed to confirm that the benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 disease in children under 12 years of age outweigh any potential risks. Constant monitoring of the severity of COVID-19 disease in all age groups is crucial. If a variant of concern emerges with increased severity in children, this would alter the risk-benefit equation,” they note.