Vaccine hope for young

MANAMA: Pfizer announced yesterday that its Covid-19 vaccine is safe and protective in children as young as 12, a step towards possibly beginning vaccinations in that age group before they head back to school after the summer holidays.

Most vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. However, children have featured amongst clusters of infections in Bahrain.

The transmission of cases between students remains low,” said Health Ministry Primary Healthcare Centres chief executive Dr Jaleela Al Sayed Jawad.

“Contact tracing has identified that most of the cases within the 18-and-under bracket are a result of being in direct contact with positive cases at home.

“Covid-19 vaccination trials amongst children are still ongoing internationally. Once the detailed results of these trials are made available, Bahrain will review the evidence in conjunction with World Health Organisation advice, and take an informed decision on whether to expand its vaccination roll-out to those below the age of 18.”

Earlier this week, classes were suspended for 10 days at four schools following a Covid-19 alert.

Parents have the option of allowing their children to continue with remote learning in accordance with the decision issued by the Medical Taskforce for Combating the Coronavirus, issued on March 11.

But many medics suggest that vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic – and helping schools, at least the upper grades, start to look a little more normal after months of disruption.

In a study of 2,260 US volunteers aged 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of Covid-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 18 among those given placebo shots, Pfizer reported.

Pfizer, whose vaccine is one of five available in Bahrain for free, said the study ‘demonstrated 100 per cent efficacy and robust antibody responses, exceeding those recorded earlier in vaccinated participants aged 16 to 25 years old, and was well tolerated’.

Researchers reported high levels of virus-fighting antibodies, somewhat higher than were seen in studies of young adults.

Children had side effects similar to young adults, the company said. The main ones were pain, fever, chills and fatigue, particularly after the second dose. The study will continue to track participants for two years for more information about long-term protection and safety.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in the coming weeks plan to ask the global regulators to allow emergency use of the shots starting at age 12.

“We share the urgency to expand the use of our vaccine,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement. He expressed the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group ‘before the start of the next school year’.

BioNTech CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin said in a statement: “Across the globe, we are longing for a normal life. This is especially true for our children.

“The initial results we have seen in the adolescent studies suggest that children are particularly well protected by vaccination, which is very encouraging given the trends we have seen in recent weeks regarding the spread of the B.1.1.7 UK variant.”

Children represent about 13pc of Covid-19 cases documented in some counties. And, while they are far less likely than adults to get seriously ill, some have died globally and many have been hospitalised. In addition, a small number have developed a serious inflammatory condition linked to the coronavirus.

The youngest of the more than 500 people to have died in Bahrain from Covid-19 was aged 20.

Already in the Middle East, Israel plans to administer the vaccine to 12- to 15-year-olds upon US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, its health minister said yesterday.

“The Pfizer announcement is terrific news,” Yuli Edelstein said over social media. “There is nothing more in order now than a speedy approval of more vaccine procurements, so we can be poised to vaccinate immediately upon FDA approval.”




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