TERTU, Estonia — With her father, 13-year-old Gloria Raudjarv, marches through a vaccination center inside a sports hall in Estonia’s second-largest city and to a nurse for her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I really want to go to school already, we’ve been doing distance learning for so long,” she said, holding her vaccination certificate.
While countries such as Estonia, Denmark and France are actively encouraging families to vaccinate their children before the start of the new school year, others such as Sweden and the United Kingdom have so far only allowed for those under the age of 18. Mass vaccination has not started.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has said that given the highly limited global supply and the fact that children are not a priority for vaccination, they face a significantly lower risk of serious illness and death. It has urged wealthy countries to stop vaccinating children and instead donate their doses to developing countries.
But as the highly transmissible delta variant continues to cause new infections despite increasing vaccination rates among adults in Europe, there are fears that young people will now accelerate the spread of the virus.
Maria Theodoridou, head of Greece’s National Immunization Committee, said Greece has seen a significant increase in positive cases in children and adolescents over the past few weeks.
“Children and adolescents, as we know, are a source of the spread of the virus,” Theodorido said, adding that those most at risk were those in children’s environments who were unvaccinated.
Vaccination is voluntary for children in Europe, but in Denmark, where more than a third of children 12 to 15 are getting their first dose, health officials are hoping that parents will be able to take everyone’s vaccinations before returning to class. Follow up on vaccination recommendations.
In France, where a third of children aged 12 to 17 have received at least one dose, the French education minister this week drew criticism for announcing that, starting in September, students in that age group were unvaccinated. will be sent home from school if someone in their class gets COVID-19.
Critics say this would create a two-tier education system and unfairly discriminate against children whose parents are anti-vaccine. The WHO has said that children do not need to be vaccinated as long as at-risk adults around them, including teachers and parents, are safe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US, only a quarter of the 12 to 15 people who have access to Pfizer vaccine starting in May have received their second dose. Among American teens 16 and 17, about 37% are fully vaccinated.
In Estonia, where youth vaccination campaigns are run by municipalities, the rapid rollout in Tartu is attributed to a strong outreach campaign in schools and through social media, easier registration processes, and an educated population. Tartu is a university and research city.
For teens, it’s mostly about seeing their friends again. Schools in Estonia have been closed for in-school learning since February, with a few exceptions for the youngest children and those appearing for exams.
Gloria, who is entering seventh grade and aspires to become a singer, looks forward to returning to the school stage.
“The contact, the conversation, the discussion, but the change in the environment, getting out of the house to go to school is really important,” said Ott Madre, a biology teacher at the city’s Hugo Trefner Gymnasium.
More than 3,100 teenagers have already been vaccinated and with four weeks to go before school resumes, Tartu’s vice mayor Mihkel Lees is confident that the city will start its campaign for students from 12 to 17 from September 1. The 70% vaccination target will be reached.
If not, they have a Plan B.
“If we can’t vaccinate enough children and young people at the vaccination center during the summer,” he said, “the school nurses will be involved.”
Contributors include Jill Lawless and Maria Cheng from London, Elena Bekatoros in Athens, Angela Charlton in Paris and David Keaton in Stockholm, Sweden.