The announcement that the Junta de Andalucía plans to coronavirus jab children under the age of twelve in their schools from October has reopened the debate on the vaccination of the youngest.
To what extent is it necessary if the majority are asymptomatic? Will they receive the same dose as adults? Can parents object to having their children vaccinated?
The coordinator of the vaccine advisory committee of the Spanish Association of Paediatrics, Francisco Álvarez, has reminded that a vaccine has not yet been approved for this age group, although there are several trials underway. That is why the health professionals consider the Andalusian Government's plans, which even included a date, «hasty», saying: «They have thrown themselves into a pool that is only half full.»
Pfizer is developing the most advanced paediatric study to date. The American pharmaceutical company has explained to SUR that they have already completed the first phase and have started the second and third «to further evaluate the safety and tolerability» of their serum in children between five and eleven years old.
The second phase that assesses the impact of the vaccine in children between six months and five years will begin «in the coming weeks.» These studies involve «up to 4,500 volunteers» aged 11 and under from the United States, Finland, Poland and Spain.
Upon completion of the trials, Pfizer will present its findings to drug regulatory bodies, first to the United States Agency (FDA) and then to the European Agency (EMA).
The regions in Spain will only be able to start administering the vaccine when the European agency gives the green-light for its use.
Pfizer has not revealed what the planned schedule is, although they have announced that the doses will be lower than in adults: one third for children between five and eleven years old and one tenth for children between six months and five years old.
After the Junta's announcement on Wednesday, when vice-president Juan Marín said that children will be vaccinated in their schools, the regional government has closed ranks. The Health minister, Jesús Aguirre, clarified on Thursday (2 September) that «we will have to wait for the conclusion of the studies that are underway, taking into account that they refer to a very sensitive population and must be approved through the European Medicines Agency, before being administered in the regions.»
This prudence has been better received by the Spanish Association of Paediatrics, which prefers to wait for the trials to finish to assess the status of the pandemic.
Álvarez insists that paediatricians support the administration of the vaccine as a «preventive method» and points out that children under the age of twelve make up around ten per cent of the population in Spain. That is why the vaccination of the group could play an essential role to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, but always conditional «on the approval of the European Medicines Agency.»
The Spanish Association of Paediatrics also considers that the benefits of the vaccine in children are still «much greater» than any risk: «That Covid-19 hardly has any consequence in minors is only partially true. Most are asymptomatic, but a recent study by the Carlos III Institute confirms that there have been eleven deaths among children under the age of ten in Spain and more than a hundred admissions to intensive care units. In Malaga province, some 18,473 infections and two deaths among children under 14 years have been reported so far.
The use of schools as vaccination centres, as planned by the Junta, is a «great idea» according to paediatricians, believing that the percentage of vaccinated children will be higher when the serum is administered in schools rather than when parents have to take their children to health centres. But for that to happen, they remind, a vaccine must first be approved for the little ones.