Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

From the beginning of next year, children as young as five will probably start being vaccinated against COVID-19.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine has been provisionally approved by the Australian Medical Regulatory Authority and has only a few minor obstacles left before it is fully clear.

It is the latest significant expansion in the national vaccine rollout and may come as a relief to many parents.

If all goes according to plan, the children will be able to receive their first dose before the school year 2022.

We have already seen the vaccine roll-out expanded to include 12- to 16-year-olds, but this expansion is a little different.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines for young children.

Will all children be eligible?

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has provisionally approved Pfizer’s vaccine for all children aged five to 11 years.

This is the most important step in the approval process, where the TGA says that the vaccine is both safe for young children and effective in protecting against COVID-19.

But the vaccine expert advisory group ATAGI still has a say. It will advise the government on exactly how the vaccine will be rolled out – for example, whether it is offered to all children at once or only to immunocompromised people in the beginning.

Asked about this Sunday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said it’s up to ATAGI – but he expects all children to be offered the vaccine at the same time.

“The early advice is that they have been working in parallel with the TGA all along and there are no red flags and so our expectation is that they are set on approving to follow the TGA,” he said.

If you are wondering what “provisional” approval means, it is basically approved for use for the next two years.

Pfizer is also committed to continuing to provide data to TGA on things like efficiency and security.

When does the rollout begin?

January 10 is the date entered for now.

It takes a little over a month for the final approval barriers to be overcome and for doses to be submitted and tested before rollout begins.

And the government is also hoping for a fairly quick rollout.

It points to the rapid ingestion of the vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds as evidence that more than 76 percent of this age group have received their first dose.

What kind of vaccine do they get?

It is exactly the same Pfizer vaccine that has been rolled out to millions of Australian adults.

But it’s a much smaller dose – exactly a third of the size of an adult dose or 10 micrograms compared to 30 for adults.

Children’s doses come in a different vial than adult doses to ensure that no mistakes are made. They will have an orange cap compared to gray or purple caps on adult doses.

And while adults receive two doses at three-week intervals, this may not be the case for children.

TGA chief professor John Skerritt said ATAGI will consider whether to extend the dose range to two months.

The mother’s vaccine is also being considered for younger children, and a decision from the TGA is expected over the next few weeks.

What is the rest of the world doing?

The United States is already well on its way to rolling out the Pfizer vaccine to five- to 11-year-olds, with U.S. health authorities recommending vaccines for that age group in early November.

It is estimated that about 10 percent of eligible children have already received their first dose.

Canada is not far behind, approving Pfizer for five to 11-year-olds and starting its rollout last week.

In Europe, the European Medicines Agency recommends that Pfizer’s vaccine be given to children between the ages of five and 11.

Different European countries are making progress at a different pace, with Italy approving the vaccine last week and France approving it for high-risk children and those living with vulnerable people.

Germany is expected to start offering jabs to children aged five to 11 early next year, around the same time as Australia.

Israel, Oman and Saudi Arabia have all approved Pfizer for children as young as five.

Is it safe?

It is primarily the task of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to determine whether the vaccine is both safe and effective for children.

Studies involving children between the ages of five and 11 were considered from the United States, Finland, Poland, and Spain.

In terms of efficacy, the response was similar to that seen in adults.

Similarly, children felt similar side effects as many adults. They include sore arms, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches and chills.

Professor Skerritt said they generally faded quickly.

“These tended to be short and fairly short-lived,” he said.

Professor Skerritt was also keen to emphasize that although children generally have a lower risk of severe COVID-19 disease, there are still good reasons to have them vaccinated.

He said that about one in 3,000 children who receive COVID also develop an immunological condition called Multi-System Inflammatory Condition, which can leave them sick for several months.

He also suggests that vaccinating children will protect other family members who may be more vulnerable and give parents more confidence to send children to school, sporting events and other social activities.

What about children under five?

This approval only covers children aged five and over, but vaccines for children under five may not be far away.

Pfizer is running two separate studies on how their vaccine works in children under the age of five, divided into two age groups.

One looks at children aged six months to two years and the other is children aged two years to five years.

The company hopes to have data left on how well the vaccine works in these cohorts by the end of this year.

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