Covid-19 vaccine: Denmark offers Pfizer jab to children ages 12-15

In a considerable acceleration of the original vaccination schedule, 240,000 children ages 12-15 were summoned for coronavirus vaccination on Wednesday, July 14th, according to the Danish Health authority.

Covid-19 vaccine: Denmark offers Pfizer jab to children ages 12-15
A youth receives a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech against Covid-19 on June 29th, 2021, at an outdoor vaccination centre in France. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

Fifteen-year-olds will find their vaccine invitations in their own Sundhed e-box, since they’re of age to decide themselves whether to get the vaccine, while invitations for 12-14-year-olds will go to their parents. 

Test centres report plenty of appointment slots available, Danish news agency Ritzau says, and a new provision allows booking vaccine appointments in another part of Denmark to accommodate travel for the summer holidays. 

READ MORE: Danish health officials scold young people as Covid cases continue to rise 

Is the vaccine safe for kids? The European Medicines Agency approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children 12-15 in May, after analysing the results of a study with 2,200 children. The Danish Health Authority endorsed vaccinating children in this age range after their own review in June.

Camila Foged, professor of vaccine design at the University of Copenhagen, points to a study the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on side effects of the Pfizer vaccine in five million children. That study showed no cause for concern, she said.

Side effects should be similar to adults’ – soreness at injection site, aches, headache and fever. “Children between the ages of 12 and 15 appear to have slightly fewer side effects than those aged 16 to 25,” Camilla Foged told Ritzau this week. 

But some prominent Danish health professionals have expressed concern about how few clinical trials have been completed, Danish national newspaper Berlingske reports, and had been more comfortable endorsing a vaccination programme for children in the autumn when even more data will be available. 

Part of the urgency to the vaccination schedule change is Denmark’s cache of 1.1 million Pfizer vaccines purchased from Romania in late June, which are close to expiration. 

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Covid-19: Danish research finds improved protection from updated vaccine

Denmark’s infectious disease control agency State Serum Institute (SSI) says that a second booster or “fourth dose” with an updated form of the Covid-19 vaccine will significantly improve protection against the virus.

Covid-19: Danish research finds improved protection from updated vaccine

The fourth dose will offer markedly better protection than if a person has only received a “third” dose or single booster jab, SSI said in a press statement.

SSI researchers, working with colleagues from the other Nordic countries, have analysed the effect of the additional booster jab with the vaccine, which has been updated in line with newer dominant subvariants of the coronavirus.

When the Danish population was first vaccinated against Covid-19, the vaccines were designed to offer protection against the original form of the virus, SSI writes.

But newer variants have made the original vaccines less effective. The updated vaccines are designed to have the best possible effect against both the original variant as well as the Omicron variant.

There are currently two versions of the updated vaccine. One is adapted towards the BA.1 Omicron subvariant, with another adapted to the BA.4-5 subvariant.

In the Nordic countries, the updated vaccines were offered during autumn 2022 to all persons over the age of 50 in Denmark and Sweden, over 60 in Finland and over 65 in Norway.

A fourth dose with the BA.1-updated version reduced the risk of hospitalisation with Covid-19 by 74 percent and the risk of death by 80 percent compared to the third dose, SSI found.

The BA.4-5 updated version reduced the risk of hospitalisation by 81 percent and the risk of death by 78 percent.

The latter of the two updated versions (BA.4-5) was found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation with Covid-19 by 32 percent compared to the BA-1 version.

“This is maybe not so surprising because BA.4-5 subvariants were dominant in autumn 2022,” SSI head of department Anders Hviid said in the statement.

“But I think we are among the first [countries] to be able to measure this based on the large quantities of data we have available from working across four countries,” he said.

The research was supported by the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA).

SSI notes that the frequency of hospitalisation and particularly death due to Covid-19 was very low after both the third and fourth doses of the vaccine.

The academic paper resulting from the study can be read in English here.

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