In a first step, the authorities approved the vaccine from the domestic manufacturer Sinovac for three to 17-year-olds last week. The Sinopharm vaccine followed on Friday. However, the National Health Commission has not yet announced a start date for the vaccinations.
Children have largely been spared the worst consequences of the pandemic, as they are less likely to be infected than adults and, in the event of an infection, usually show less severe symptoms. However, experts warn that they can still transmit the virus.
They suggest that countries seeking herd immunity through vaccination campaigns should include children. “Vaccinating children is an important step forward,” says virologist Jin Dong-yan of the Hong Kong University Medical School.
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However, given vaccine skepticism and vaccine shortages, this may be easier said than done. Even in countries with sufficient vaccines, some governments struggle to convince adults of the safety and necessity of immunization – although studies show both. And such concerns can grow when it comes to the youngest of society.
Permanent vaccination commission slows down child vaccinations in Germany
There is also the question of approval. The USA, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong now allow the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children from the age of twelve. The EU Medicines Agency also gave the green light, but in Germany, for example, the Standing Vaccination Commission (Stiko) slowed down and recommended vaccination only for children and adolescents with previous illnesses.
The announcements about Sinovac and Sinopharm could pave the way for their preparations to be vaccinated in children worldwide. The two vaccines are already in use in dozens of countries from Brazil to Indonesia.
In Thailand, for example, Sinovac accounts for the majority of vaccine deliveries. Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul welcomed the news of the emergency admission for children in China. “As soon as it is approved, we will be ready to make the vaccine available to all age groups,” said Anutin on Monday.
Other vaccine manufacturers are also trying to gain access to younger people. Moderna, like Pfizer, is aiming for approval for children twelve years and older, and both are conducting studies with younger ones – up to six months of age.
Another obstacle to vaccinating children is that many countries still do not have enough doses for the more vulnerable adult populations. Thailand, for example, has only vaccinated four percent of the population so far, and adult demand is far higher than supply.
Doubts about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines are great
“In view of the vaccine shortage, all available vaccines should be prioritized at the moment according to the age and risk of the people,” says Jerome Kim, head of the International Vaccination Institute in the South Korean capital, Seoul. “It’s really important to get these vaccines where they are needed now.”
In many places, people also doubt the effectiveness of the Chinese remedies compared to their Western competitors. While the efficiency rates are not directly comparable due to different conditions, the western vaccines have proven to be very effective in preventing infections in the reality test.
Sinovac’s serum is highly effective in preventing serious illnesses and hospital stays. Sinopharm has published relatively little data. The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued emergency approval for both vaccines for use in adults aged 18 and over.
This paved the way for use in global programs to distribute vaccines to poorer countries. The WHO has not yet revealed whether it could also release the substances for younger people.
Vaccines are often released separately for adults and children because younger immune systems may react differently. According to experts, vaccines from inactivated viruses, such as the Chinese ones, are generally considered safe for children.
Children are well protected from the virus
Because this technology has been tried and tested for a long time, for example in mandatory child vaccination programs, and has shown only a low risk. Vaccination expert Nikolai Petrovsky from Flinders University in Australia questions vaccinations for children with the Sinovac preparation. The vaccines are probably safe for minors, he explains. However, they are relatively well protected from the virus anyway, and it has not yet been proven that the vaccine prevents transmission.
“Without such evidence, we have to ask why we are vaccinating the children,” says Petrovsky. China has 1.4 billion people, so 560 million people will have to vaccinate in order to reach its target vaccination rate of 40 percent in June.
For the 80 percent target, 1.12 billion people must have been injected. It will be difficult without vaccinating many of the 254 million children under the age of 14.
More: The most important questions and answers about the corona vaccination for children