Covid-19: Doctor hopeful children as young as 5 can soon be vaccinated

8:06 am on 17 August 2021

A leading Māori doctor is calling for the vaccination of children against Covid-19 to get underway, and is hopeful kids as young as five could get their vaccines by the end of the year.

Here is what people will be greeted with when they arrive to the event.

A mass vaccination event in Manukau, Auckland last month. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

About 30 percent of the Māori and Pacific population is aged 16 or under, and Dr Rawiri Jansen said vaccinating those children needs to happen to protect their whānau.

A Covid-19 modeller said the benefits would stretch wider, leading to fewer lockdowns once border restrictions ease next year.

Medsafe gave its approval for children aged 12 to 15 to be given the Pfizer vaccine back on 21 June.

But as yet, children have not been vaccinated.

Jansen said the government needed to get on with it.

It was particularly important with vaccination rates lagging for the Māori and Pacific communities, he said.

"I think it's a really important contribution to getting protection for Māori and Pacific communities, because our age population structure is much younger."

"Thirty percent of our population is under the age of 16, and so if we're going to get sufficient numbers of people vaccinated we do have to reach into the younger age groups as soon as possible."

According to the New York Times, Pfizer is expecting to conclude trials and start vaccinating five to 11 year olds in the United States next month.

Trials for two to five year olds will follow soon after, with trials for children as young as six months expected in October or November.

The trials have taken longer than initially expected due to concerns over side effects in young people, in particular over myocarditis and pericarditis.

Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen said the premature death statistics from Counties Manukau Health highlight the state of the healthcare system.

Dr Rawiri Jansen. Photo: LDR / Stephen Forbes

Data shows rates of the heart condition are low - fewer than 13 cases per one million second doses - and most cases were mild and cleared quickly.

Jansen said it is important that information is known and transparent.

"It's clear that there are a number of cases, something like 13 per million, of myocarditis, sort of an inflammation condition of the heart.

"It's clear that nobody's dying from that. It's mild and everybody's recovering, but it's important to tell the truth about that."

As soon as vaccinations for younger children are approved in the United States, Medsafe should be combing through the data to clear them for use in New Zealand, he said.

"By the end of the year I'd be hopeful that we are providing vaccinations to the school aged children, you know, five through to 12.

"We may get some more data at the end of the year that confirms that it's safe for younger infants right down to probably a one year old.

"I think that's a really important way of making sure that our programme is going to protect our community."

University of Auckland professor Shaun Hendy said there will be some ethical questions to answer around whether children should be vaccinated when they do not have a say in it.

"It certainly does need consideration, and factoring into that sending kids to school, allowing them to socialise normally without putting other members of their family at risk is another important consideration," Hendy said.

"It's quite a complex calculation that the government would have to do, but assuming it passes that test there could be real benefits as we continue to battle this virus."

Professor Hendy said those benefits could be massive as the country looks to open up next year.

"It would mean that if we did decide to open up next year, which will inevitably mean the virus making it into the country, that the size of the outbreaks we saw would be smaller, they'd be less likely to shut down schools, and overall they'd be easier to control.

"It might mean we didn't have to use lockdowns for example, to stamp out large outbreaks."

Modelling by Hendy and the government around New Zealand's chances at herd immunity, or around easing border restrictions, do not rely on vaccinating children.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "We didn't bank in any of our assumptions the idea of vaccinating anyone else who had not yet been approved, so that was basis in which we set out that reconnection plan."

However, Ardern did say any plans to open up the border accounted for people who can not, or will not, be vaccinated.

"People have claimed that we should just open up because those who choose not to be vaccinated should somehow just suffer the consequences," she said.

"We don't seem to keep in mind that not everyone will necessarily be eligible for vaccination, so that's again another reason why an elimination strategy, alongside a vaccination plan and cautious borders, is the way to go."

Ardern said an announcement on vaccinations for 12 to 15 year olds will be made in the "near future".

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