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COVID-19 VACCINES

EU approves first Covid jab for children aged 5 to 11

The EU's drug agency cleared Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged five to 11 on Thursday, the first jab to be approved in a cohort where the virus is rapidly spreading.

A child, age 8, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
A child, age 8, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine Andrej Ivanov / AFP

Only a small handful of countries had previously given the nod for coronavirus vaccinations in younger children, including the United States, Israel and Canada.

“I’m glad to tell you that Comirnaty from today has received approval for children five to 11 years of age,” said Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), using the vaccine’s brand name.

“This is based on a different dose in the one used in adults, essentially it’s a much lower dose,” he told an online public meeting.

The vaccine was already cleared for use in people aged 12 and over in the 27-nation EU.

Children aged five to 11 will be given one third of the dose that older people receive, with two injections, three weeks apart, the EMA said in a statement.

The vaccine was 90.7 percent effective in a study of nearly 2,000 children of that age, it added.

Side effects were usually “mild or moderate” lasting a few days, and included pain in the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain and chills.

The EMA “therefore concluded that the benefits of Comirnaty in children aged five to 11 outweigh the risks, particularly in those with conditions that increase the risk of severe Covid-19.”

The EU Commission will now likely approve the vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 but the ultimate decision over whether to roll out the Covid jab to yound kids will rest on the government of each member state.

France on Thursday said ministers were examining rolling out the vaccine to the age group but said there would be no decision before 2022.

But the Pfizer jab’s safety in children “will continue to be monitored closely”.

Health authorities say children make up an increasing proportion of new cases and hospitalisations in Europe, which is back at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic.

Children are also considered key drivers of infections even when they themselves do not come down with symptoms.

In the Netherlands, where the EMA is based, authorities said earlier this week that the largest increase in cases was among children up to the age of 12.

“We know that severe Covid-19 and death remain quite rare in children, however disease of all severity occurs in all the paediatric ages,” Cavaleri said.

“Moreover, high transmission results in increased hospitalisation in children of all ages.”

While children with underlying health conditions were more likely to become ill, the majority of children in hospital with Covid were otherwise healthy, said Cavaleri.

They were also at risk of so-called “long Covid” symptoms dragging on for months after infection, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome, he added.

The EMA is separately reviewing Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for children aged 6-11 and expects to reach a decision in January.

The regulator has so far approved four vaccines for use for adults in the EU: Pfizer and Moderna, which use messenger RNA technology, and AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which use viral vector technology.

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VIENNA

Delays and high demand force Vienna to expand Covid vaccinations

Vienna will expand its Covid vaccine offerings due to high demand, with some waiting up to two hours to get the jab.

Delays and high demand force Vienna to expand Covid vaccinations

Long lines in Viennese vaccination centres led to people having to wait one and a half to two hours to get the coronavirus jab, according to reports in Austria media.

Some people were told to get vaccinated elsewhere due to the high demand. 

Broadcaster ORF said that the surge in demand comes just after the city of Vienna simplified the access to the fourth Covid vaccination. As a result, people can get the shot after four months of the third dose without the need for registration or appointment.

With increasing coronavirus numbers ahead of the summer holidays, the search for the vaccine has also risen. While about 300 people were vaccinated daily less than two weeks ago, about 1,300 people went every day at the weekend, the report said.

Health authorities recommend people make an appointment even though they are not required to. “With an appointment, it’s easier for us to plan, and there is also a separate area for people with appointments”, Susanne Drapalik, chief physician at the Samaritan League, told reporters.

The Austrian capital will also extend the opening hours of the vaccination centres to meet demand.

More information is available here. 

Who should receive a second booster? 

Austria’s GECKO crisis coordinator Katharina Reich and Health Minister Rauch are now calling for vulnerable people to get vaccinated in light of the rising number of corona cases.

“We won’t have any peace in the summer. There is no stability. Vulnerable groups should get vaccinated now and again in the autumn. Everyone else who has already been vaccinated three times should get boosters around eight weeks before the autumn wave,” Reich told Austrian media.

Currently, Austria’s National Vaccination Committee (NIG) has recommended a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, but only for those deemed at risk of serious illness.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: What should I do if my Austrian Green Pass is expiring

The NIG identifies risk groups as people over 80 and those between the ages of 65 and 79 with a weakened immune system or existing health conditions.

The committee is considering lowering the recommended age to 65, even for people with no other health conditions.

READ ALSO: Covid-19 in Austria: When should you get your fourth vaccine dose?

In Vienna, the fourth dose can already be given off-label to persons over the age of 65 or to anyone who wants to take it after a medical individual risk-benefit assessment.

Clinical pharmacologist Markus Zeitlinger, from MedUni Vienna, told Kurier that he believes anyone who wants maximum immune protection at all times should get a vaccination now – children excluded. He said since there will be a summer wave, people shouldn’t wait to get protected.

He said there is medically no reason not to get vaccinated in June, and then again as early as October. 

If you have had three vaccinations and had an infection confirmed by PCR test, then no further vaccination is currently recommended.

 

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