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COVID-19 VACCINES

EU approves first Covid jab for children aged 5 to 11

The EU's drug agency cleared Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for use in children aged five to 11 on Thursday, the first jab to be approved in a cohort where the virus is rapidly spreading.

A child, age 8, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine
A child, age 8, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine Andrej Ivanov / AFP

Only a small handful of countries had previously given the nod for coronavirus vaccinations in younger children, including the United States, Israel and Canada.

“I’m glad to tell you that Comirnaty from today has received approval for children five to 11 years of age,” said Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccine strategy at the European Medicines Agency (EMA), using the vaccine’s brand name.

“This is based on a different dose in the one used in adults, essentially it’s a much lower dose,” he told an online public meeting.

The vaccine was already cleared for use in people aged 12 and over in the 27-nation EU.

Children aged five to 11 will be given one third of the dose that older people receive, with two injections, three weeks apart, the EMA said in a statement.

The vaccine was 90.7 percent effective in a study of nearly 2,000 children of that age, it added.

Side effects were usually “mild or moderate” lasting a few days, and included pain in the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain and chills.

The EMA “therefore concluded that the benefits of Comirnaty in children aged five to 11 outweigh the risks, particularly in those with conditions that increase the risk of severe Covid-19.”

The EU Commission will now likely approve the vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 but the ultimate decision over whether to roll out the Covid jab to yound kids will rest on the government of each member state.

France on Thursday said ministers were examining rolling out the vaccine to the age group but said there would be no decision before 2022.

But the Pfizer jab’s safety in children “will continue to be monitored closely”.

Health authorities say children make up an increasing proportion of new cases and hospitalisations in Europe, which is back at the centre of the coronavirus pandemic.

Children are also considered key drivers of infections even when they themselves do not come down with symptoms.

In the Netherlands, where the EMA is based, authorities said earlier this week that the largest increase in cases was among children up to the age of 12.

“We know that severe Covid-19 and death remain quite rare in children, however disease of all severity occurs in all the paediatric ages,” Cavaleri said.

“Moreover, high transmission results in increased hospitalisation in children of all ages.”

While children with underlying health conditions were more likely to become ill, the majority of children in hospital with Covid were otherwise healthy, said Cavaleri.

They were also at risk of so-called “long Covid” symptoms dragging on for months after infection, and multisystem inflammatory syndrome, he added.

The EMA is separately reviewing Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for children aged 6-11 and expects to reach a decision in January.

The regulator has so far approved four vaccines for use for adults in the EU: Pfizer and Moderna, which use messenger RNA technology, and AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which use viral vector technology.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

Austria's national vaccination board changed the recommendations for when to get the fourth dose of coronavirus vaccines. Here's what you need to know.

Reader question: When should I get a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Austria?

Over this weekend, Austria’s national vaccination board (NIG) released an updated recommendation on Covid-19 immunisation, changing its previous guidance for the fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccination slightly.

According to the NIG, booster vaccinations can be given to persons aged 12 years and older and are recommended for anyone who wants to protect themselves.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get the new adapted Covid-19 vaccine in Austria

In particular, the 4th vaccination is advised for persons over 60 years of age, persons at risk of severe disease progression (including pregnant women) and persons with an increased risk of exposure (healthcare workers, people in long-term nursing or care facilities, etc.).

The recommended interval between the third and fourth doses is from six months for people between 12 and 59 years old, NIG said. For those over 60 or risk patients, that interval is from 4 months.

What has changed then?

The main difference is the recommendation for those who have had a Covid-19 infection after their third shot.

“An infection in vaccinated persons usually leads to a booster effect (hybrid immunity), which can affect the optimal timing of the next vaccination.”, NIG said.

However, the board specified that infection could only be “counted” after it was confirmed with a PCR test.

READ ALSO: Austria announces new Covid-19 vaccination campaign

So, if you have had a PCR-confirmed infection after your second or third shot and it was an asymptomatic case, you may follow the regular vaccination scheme. However, you can also postpone your vaccination for up to six months.

If you had a symptomatic case, you may postpone your next dose for up to six months only if you are younger than 60 and not of a risk group.

NIG said: “Persons vaccinated three times who have also had a proven omicron infection show a good booster response and cross-immunity”.

READ ALSO: From inflation to Covid: What to expect from Austria’s winter season

It added: In such cases, especially in persons under 60 years of age, the 4th vaccination within a period of up to 6 months does not achieve any further improvement in immune protection and thus, the 4th vaccination can be postponed accordingly.

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