COVID-19 vaccines now recommended for ages 12-15 years
From this month, children aged between 12 and 15 in Australia are able to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Children, or their parents, have the choice of whether the child receives Moderna or Pfizer, both of which have been recommended by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Infectious diseases expert, Associate Professor Paul Griffin explains that vaccinating this age group will not only help them against COVID-19 but will also help to limit the spread of the disease in the community.
“It was always the plan to try and have a vaccine available for every age group, so this is a much-anticipated step in the rollout. Clinical trials in children are always behind those that support the use of vaccines initially in healthy adults. We obviously don’t start clinical trials with children, we start in healthy middle-aged adults and gradually expand to include older adults, adults with comorbidities, then finally pregnant women and children. We now have excellent data to support the use of vaccines in other age groups which is why we are progressively expanding their use.
“Recent outbreaks of the Delta variant in Australia have seen the rate of COVID-19 infections among children and young people rise higher than last year. Early on in the pandemic, this was something that we didn’t really see very much but it has certainly increased recently. Fortunately, whilst we are still seeing very few children progressing to severe disease – as the case numbers increase, even at a relatively low rate, unfortunately some children will get quite sick from COVID-19. That’s why it is so important to have them protected as well,” said A/Prof Griffin.
There had been some concerns about side-effects in younger people for mRNA vaccines, including myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle, and pericarditis, which is when the outer lining of the heart becomes inflamed. However, the ATAGI provided advice to the federal government stating that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both safe and effective for this particular age group.
“Both Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and are extremely safe. Of course, no vaccine, no medical intervention is completely free of adverse events, but these risks are very carefully assessed with respect to the risks of the disease. In this case, as we have seen with other age groups the benefits far outweigh the risks and therefore the approval on the expansion of the roll out. We need to remember that children have not been able to attend school for such a significant proportion of the pandemic so far. School is so important, not only for their education but also for their socialisation and development. By having them vaccinated we can hopefully allow schools to remain open even in the midst of some transmission.
“It is likely that the age range will be expanded even more in the coming months, but I would expect that perhaps by next year there will be a vaccine available for people of any age, from 6 months of age upwards in this country. That is obviously going to contribute a lot towards targets that we need to reach in order to protect people and not rely on the restrictions that we are under at the moment. This is certainly welcome news, and I am looking forward to seeing the rollout expand further,” said Prof Griffin.