EU approves use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children 12 and over in Europe

The European Commission authorised the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds on Friday, following the European Medicines Agency's approval of administering the jabs to adolescents earlier in the day.

EU approves use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children 12 and over in Europe
A nurse prepares a syringe with saline solution before it is diluted with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at the Evonik vaccination in Hanau, western Germany (Photo by THOMAS LOHNES / AFP)

This vaccine is already approved for people aged 16 and over in the EU.

Earlier this month, US regulators authorised the vaccine for children in the 12-to-15 age group, and it is now widely available.

The European Medicines Agency said that two doses of the vaccine would be needed in adolescents and should be given at least three weeks apart, which is the same guidance as for adult use.

Individual EU states would be able to decide whether or not they wanted to offer the vaccine to the 12 to 15-year-olds.

READ ALSO: Vaccines to be made available to children 12 and over in Germany starting June

Germany said on Thursday that it would start giving the vaccine to children from 12 to 15 from June 7th, which is when vaccine prioritisation for all adults is set to end in Germany.

READ ALSO: Covid jabs for children in Germany will be an ‘individual decision’, says Health Minister

Italy has also said it would extend its vaccination campaign to the over-12s, with approval from Italy’s regulator expected by Monday.

READ ALSO: Italy to open Covid jab appointments to all over-16s from June 3rd

And Austrian capital Vienna was waiting for the EMA approval before opening up Covid-19 vaccination registrations to parents of 12- to 15-year-olds.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, children may be able to get vaccinated at the age of 10, even without their parents’ approval.

The EMA approval may help reassure parents when children go back to face-to-face teaching, but the issue is not without controversy.

A few figures in the medical community have said there is not yet enough evidence to support vaccines and their potential side effects in younger people, while others believe older and vulnerable people in less wealthy countries should be prioritised over children.

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Swedish reading skills fell in 2021 despite decision to keep schools open

The reading ability of year four students in Sweden dropped slightly more in the five years leading up to the end of 2021 than the average for other EU and OECD countries, despite the country's decision to keep schools open in the pandemic.

Swedish reading skills fell in 2021 despite decision to keep schools open

In latest Pirls reading comparison study, carried out in 2021, Swedish year four pupils scored a total of just 544 points, a sharp drop from the 555 points the country received in 2016 and only a little above the country’s worst ever result in 2011. 

But Sweden’s 12-point fall was only slightly worse than the 10-point fall seen in the other 65 EU and OECD countries which took part, with Swedish pupils as a whole still scoring above the EU and OECD average of 529 points, and even slightly above the 542 average for students in Denmark, Norway and Finland. 

At a press conference held to announce the result, Peter Fredriksson, the director-general of the Swedish National Agency for Education (Skolverket), put the fall in Swedish students’ reading skills down both to the impact of the pandemic and to an increase in the number of pupils who do not speak Swedish at home. 

“We have said previously that the pandemic affects learning most for the students with the lowest level of resources,” he said.

In the agency’s interpretation of the results, it said that it was impossible to measure the exact impact of the pandemic as all countries were affected. 

However, it said that as different countries had taken different measures that impacted on the education system in different ways, “the effect of the pandemic effect on the education systems of the different participating countries has probably not been the same”. 

Although Sweden kept schools open for the youngest students, education was severely affected for two months or more in about one in every three schools, with either short-term closures or widespread absences due to sickness. 

What Fredriksson said was for him “the most striking” element of the report, however, was the fall in the performance of the students with the most challenging backgrounds. 

These were responsible for almost all of Sweden’s fall in reading performance, with the students who received the highest results still reading at the same level as in 2001, when Sweden topped the Pirls ranking. 

“The number [of pupils] that are at the lowest level has never been higher and that is worrying,” he said. 

There was a 91 point difference between the pupils judged as having the highest level of resources at home and those judged as having the lowest level of resources, up from 73 in 2016. 

“We are concerned at the Swedish National Agency for Education that we have a segregated school system and shortcomings when it comes to equality between schools,” he said in a press statement. “This study confirms the picture we had earlier and even strengthens it.” 

Sweden remains above average when it comes to reading ability, coming seventh equal with Taiwan out of the 65 countries in the study, behind Singapore on 587, Hong Kong on 573, Russia on 567, England on 558, and Finland and Poland on 549. 

Sweden also beat Denmark and Norway, which both scored 539 points.