News | South Africa
As the debate around determining whether the Covid vaccine is safe for infants and children continues, the focus should not be the vaccination of children but rather “the vaccination and adequate penetration on vaccines in the adult group”.
Vaccinologist Professor Shabir Madhi said: “For South Africa and other countries to weather another resurgence, it would be more effective to get high levels of vaccinations in the target group that are mostly at risk of developing sever disease.”
“Rather than trying to disperse our resources and start to vaccinate children, concentrate on those adults.”
Head of the South African Vaccination Centre at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University Professor Hannelie Meyer said there was great confusion among the public regarding the difference between the Coronavac phase 3 trial and the Pfizer vaccine already authorised for children from the age of 12 years.
“This is a phase 3 trial, which will evaluate the efficacy, immunogenicity and safety of the vaccine in children and adolescents aged six months to 17 years,” she said.
Meyer said the phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials had already been completed in China, where it was tested on babies from six months, which showed that it is safe to use in children.
“The phase 3 trial will now provide us with much more data on the efficacy and the safety of the vaccine, as well as the immune response of the children, as phase 3 trials are much larger.”
Phase 3 trials must first be completed and the data reviewed by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to confirm that the vaccine will be safe and effective to use for children in that age group, before it will be authorised for use in SA.
“We might be able to start vaccinating children from the age of 12 years in the near future. However, right now, the priority is to vaccinate the adult population and specifically all those who are at higher risk of developing severe disease or death,” Meyer said.
“Reaching those in this population who are still unvaccinated is the most important public health priority.”
She also said the sooner SA could vaccinate most of the adult population, the sooner vaccination for children will become a priority to manage the pandemic.
“Children who are at higher risk, for example those with comorbidities, will most probably be prioritised when we start vaccinating children,” she said.
“We also need to keep in mind that approximately a third of the population is younger than 19. If we want to contain the virus, we will have to consider vaccinating children in the future.”
Madhi said the only way to avoid overwhelming health services and minimise death with a looming fourth Covid wave, was through vaccination.
“Although children might need to be vaccinated eventually, they are not at risk or have a marginal risk of developing severe disease and dying from Covid. The focus should be people over the age of 50 and between 35 and 50 with underlying medical conditions.”
“When it comes to the different vaccines for children and adults, because children are much smaller, we need to use a different dose for children,” he said.
“They have a different immune system and react differently to vaccines, hence the reason why the studies need to be done.”
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