Children at risk should be a ‘priority group’ for vaccine – ECDC

Covid-19 cases rising among 5-11 age group but severe illness still ‘rare’, says report

The ECDC cautioned that children with no known risk factors were still susceptible to 'severe disease and hospitalisation' and called for all countries to consider the vaccination of children aged 5-11. Photograph: iStock

The ECDC cautioned that children with no known risk factors were still susceptible to 'severe disease and hospitalisation' and called for all countries to consider the vaccination of children aged 5-11. Photograph: iStock

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Children who are at risk of developing severe Covid-19 symptoms should be considered a “priority group for vaccination”, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said.

The ECDC’s interim public health considerations for the Covid-19 vaccination of children noted that hospitalisation rates among children with the virus aged between five and 11 had increased but that severe Covid-19 was still “rare” among most children.

However, it cautioned that children with no known risk factors were still susceptible to “severe disease and hospitalisation” and called for all countries to consider the vaccination of this cohort of children.

Last month, the HSE began stepping up its plan on vaccinating children aged between five and 11 after the EU’s drug regulator approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for that age group. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said the under-12s cohort should get a lower dose of the vaccine than teenagers and adults.

Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac) has previously taken its lead from the EMA on vaccination decisions. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that Pfizer vaccines approved for children would be available in the EU from December 13th, earlier than was expected.

Reproduction number

In its interim report, the ECDC said it expected the Covid-19 reproduction number would fall an average of 11 per cent once children aged between 5 and 11 are vaccinated. However, the impact of vaccinating children will be “weaker” in countries with a low vaccination rate in adults and “stronger” in countries, such as Ireland, where vaccine uptake is high.

“Vaccinating children cannot be considered a substitute for vaccinating adults,” said the report. “Increasing the vaccination rate in the eligible adult population remains the main priority of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns seeking to reduce Covid-19-related morbidity and mortality.”

It acknowledged that vaccine safety data in children aged 5-11 was “currently limited” and the “level of natural immunity in the unvaccinated and its duration are currently unknown”.

Before deciding whether or not to vaccinate children against Covid, countries should consider the “potential harms and benefits including the direct and indirect effects in health and wellbeing” alongside vaccine uptake, the epidemiological situation in that country, implementation and health equity, said the report.