Could 12 to 15-year-olds in the EU soon be given the Pfizer Covid vaccine?

Pfizer/BioNTech said on Friday it has asked European regulators to authorise its Covid-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, a move seen as a crucial step toward achieving herd immunity.

Could 12 to 15-year-olds in the EU soon be given the Pfizer Covid vaccine?
A pupil at a school in the German state of Hesse in April. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The company has already filed a similar request with US authorities earlier this month. Its vaccine is currently only approved for use in people aged 16 and over.

In a joint statement, Pfizer and BioNTech said they had submitted a request with the Amsterdam-based European Medicines Agency (EMA) to expand the use of their jab to include “adolescents 12 to 15 years of age”.

Ugur Sahin, co-founder and CEO of Germany’s BioNTech firm, on Thursday said the jab could be available for those age groups from June if EU approval is granted.

READ MORE: Germany’s BioNTech hopes for 12-to-15 year olds to receive vaccine in June

The move comes after phase 3 trial data showed that the vaccine provided “robust antibody responses” and was 100 percent effective in warding off the disease among those aged 12 to 15.

“The vaccine also was generally well tolerated,” the statement added.

In an interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel weekly, Sahin said he expected regulators’ evaluation of the data to take four to six weeks.

If approved, the green light would apply to all 27 European Union member states.

Pfizer and BioNTech added that they also plan to seek authorisations “with other regulatory authorities worldwide”.

No coronavirus vaccines are currently authorised for use on children.

While children and teenagers are less likely to develop severe Covid, they make up a large part of the population and inoculating them is considered key to ending the pandemic.

The prospect of getting older children jabbed before the next school year begins would also ease the strain on parents who are juggling the demands of homeschooling while keeping up with jobs.

“It’s very important to enable children a return to their normal school lives and allow them to meet with family and friends,” Sahin told Spiegel.

Plan for vaccination of younger children

BioNTech and Pfizer are also racing to get their jab approved for younger kids, from six months upwards.

“In July, the first results for five- to 12-year-olds could be available, and those for younger children in September,” Sahin said.

Ongoing trials so far are “very encouraging”, Sahin said, suggesting that “children are very well protected by the vaccine”.

BioNTech was founded in Mainz by husband and wife team Ugur Sahin and his wife Özlem Türeci. They teamed up with US pharma company Pfizer to produce the shot which is based on novel mRNA technology, and was the first Covid-19 jab to be approved in the West late last year.

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Spain has the EU’s highest rate of high school dropouts

The OECD has warned that 28 percent of young people in Spain leave school without finishing their high school education, more than twice the EU average.

Spain has the EU’s highest rate of high school dropouts

In 2021, 28 percent of people aged 25 to 34 in Spain hadn’t completed the sixth form/high school education or a grado medio (the equivalent in terms of vocation training). 

These are the worrying findings of the OECD’s study Education at a Glance 2022, which considers that finishing secondary education is the “minimum qualification” young people need for a “successful participation in the labour market”. 

Spain’s high school dropout rate of 28 percent is in stark contrast to the EU’s 12 percent, and considerably higher than Italy’s (in second place with 23 percent) and Portugal’s (third place with 17 percent).

Only in OECD countries such as Colombia and Turkey are the dropout rates higher than in Spain.

And yet there is a silver lining to this dire percentage, as in 2011 35 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Spain hadn’t completed their high school studies.

Another improvement is that 49 percent of young adults in Spain in 2021 had completed a university degree or vocational training course, whereas in the year 2000 it was only a third. 

Spain’s rate of school dropouts is far higher in some regions than others. In Navarre and the Basque Country for example, it’s 14.6 percent and 15.4 percent respectively, whereas in southern regions such as Murcia and Andalusia and in the autonomous cities of Melilla and Ceuta the average is between 34 percent and 41 percent.

Male students also tend to fare worse than female students in terms of abandoning their studies early: 33 percent compared to 22 percent.

The OECD has stressed that “a higher educational level is associated with better career prospects”. 

In Spain, the employment rate among young people who completed their bachillerato is 9 percent higher, and if they went on to study at university it’s 19 percent higher than for high school dropouts. 

Pay is also better. Those who completed their baccalaureate or equivalent earn 29 percent more on average than those who didn’t. 

One in every five young people aged 25 to 34 in Spain don’t work or study, and there’s even a name to refer to them: ni-nis, which is short for ni estudia ni trabaja (neither studies nor works). 

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is an intergovernmental organisation with 38 member countries, mostly European and North American nations, as well as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries such as Costa Rica, Turkey, Colombia and Chile.

Lucas Gortázar, Head of Education at Spanish think tank EsadeEcPol, blames Spain’s poor ranking on the lack of vocational training courses (formación profesional, or FP) that are available, “low social interest in education”, as well as a “restrictive qualification system where those who don’t have a degree, cannot continue studying”.

However, Gortázar told Spanish daily El Mundo that the situation is improving as “families are betting more and more on education and vocational training is expanding because Spanish authorities have finally realised that it is the solution to this problem”. 

“But there are other issues that remain, such as the certification system in ESO, which is the cause of this low educational achievement,” he acknowledged.

Education in Spain is compulsory from 6 until the age of 16.

READ ALSO: How Spain is changing its ESO secondary education system