The Dominion Post

First teens, then tots in vaccine bid

- Bridie Witton and Henry Cooke

Teenagers should be vaccinated against coronaviru­s before the end of the year, while children as young as 6 months old could soon be vaccinated safely, experts said after the Pfizer vaccine was yesterday provisiona­lly approved for use on Kiwi children as young as 12.

Expanding the age range promises to help New Zealand reach herd immunity, with children aged under 18 equating to about a quarter of the population, said University of Otago epidemiolo­gist Professor Michael Baker.

Vaccinatin­g children also reduces the impact of vaccinehes­itant adults on herd immunity by increasing the total proportion of the population that has been inoculated against coronaviru­s.

‘‘Herd immunity is a numbers game. If you want to achieve 60 to 70 per cent coverage, you ideally want to include children,’’ he said.

Medsafe yesterday announced the Pfizer vaccine could be used on children aged 12 to 15, following regulators in Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan.

Separately, Pfizer said it would begin testing its vaccine on children aged as young as 6 months after using a lower dose of the shot this month.

The vaccine was not approved for children at the same time as adults because it had not been thoroughly studied in children.

But while children rarely get seriously ill or die from Covid-19, they have more opportunit­ies to spread the disease. Vaccinatin­g them protects other vulnerable groups – such as their grandparen­ts.

‘‘They have huge social networks and their hygiene is questionab­le, their sense of personal space is minimal,’’ Baker said, describing the scope for children to spread the virus.

However, ensuring all people eligible for a vaccine in group 1 were inoculated against the virus was of a higher importance to keeping Covid-19 out of the community, he added.

Professor Michael Plank, from Te Pu¯ naha Matatini and University of Canterbury, said expanding the age range to include 12 to 15-year-olds was good news. Children could still suffer significan­t long-term health complicati­ons as a result of Covid-19, known as ‘‘long Covid’’.

Cabinet had to decide to use the vaccine for under-16s, which it was expected to do later this month, while teenagers were expected to become eligible for the vaccine towards the end of the year, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday.

‘‘The next step is for the Government to review advice from the Ministry of Health about the ‘decision to use’, and we expect to make a decision later this month. Until that decision is made, youth aged 12 to 15 won’t be given the vaccine,’’ she said.

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