China’s children may be next in line for COVID-19 vaccines

Regulators took the first step last week by approving the use of the country’s Sinovac vaccine for children ages 3 to 17, though no announcement has been made about when the shots will begin.

Children who have been largely shielded from epidemics become infected less easily than adults and usually show less severe symptoms when they catch the virus. But experts say children can still transmit the virus to others and some say children should be part of the vaccination plan if countries are going to achieve herd immunity through their vaccination campaigns.

“Vaccination of children is an important step,” said Jin Dong-yan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong’s medical school.

However, doing so is easier said than done for reasons ranging from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine availability.

There is also the matter of acceptance. Some regulators around the world have evaluated the safety of COVID-19 shots in children, with most shots currently approved for adults only. But the approvals are starting to happen. The United States, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong are all allowing the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children under the age of 12.

Sinovac’s announcement could open the way for a vaccine to be given to children around the world, which is already being used in dozens of countries, from Brazil to Indonesia.

In Thailand, where Sinovac makes up the bulk of the country’s vaccine supply, Health Minister Anutin Charanvirakul welcomed the news that China has approved emergency use for children.

“Once it is approved, we are ready to make the vaccine available to cover all ages,” Anutin said on Monday.

Other vaccine manufacturers are also working to increase access to young people. Moderna, like Pfizer, is seeking permission to use its shot on children under the age of 12. Both companies also offer education to young children under 6 months of age.

Another obstacle to vaccinating children is that many countries are still struggling to get enough doses to vaccinate their high-risk adult populations. For example, Thailand has so far vaccinated only 4% of its population and adult demand for vaccines far exceeds supply.

“Given the paucity of vaccines right now, any available vaccines should be prioritized on age-based and risk-based,” said Jerome Kim, head of the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul. “It’s really important to get this vaccine out to the places where it’s needed right now.”

There is also public concern about the efficacy of the Sinovac vaccine versus Western rivals in many places. Although efficacy rates cannot be directly compared, Western vaccines have been shown to be very effective in preventing infection in real-world trials, due to trials being conducted under different conditions. The Sinovac shot has been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization.

The World Health Organization last week approved the Sinovac vaccine for emergency use in adults 18 years of age and older, paving the way for its use in global programs aimed at distributing the vaccine in low- and middle-income countries. The WHO has given no indication of when it might approve it for those young people.

Vaccines are often approved differently for adults and children because young immune systems may react differently to doses. Experts say inactivated vaccines are generally considered safe for children, because the technology has been in use for a long time, such as in mandatory childhood immunization programs, and has been shown to have a low risk.

Nikolai Petrovsky, a vaccine specialist at Flinders University in Australia, said it was reasonable to assume that vaccines would be safe for children, questioning the need for vaccination against a virus they have yet to show the use of a vaccine. are relatively safe to do. This prevents transmission.

He wrote in an email, “As far as I know, there is no data to suggest that the Sinovac vaccine will prevent transmission in children. Without such evidence we need to ask whether we use children.” Why are you getting vaccinated?

China has a population of 1.4 billion, which means it needs to vaccinate 560 million people to reach its goal of 40% vaccination by June and 1.12 billion to achieve the 80% target. Many of its 254 million children, who are under the age of 14, would find it difficult to do the latter without being vaccinated.

When China begins vaccinating children will be determined by the government’s National Health Commission according to the pandemic situation, Sinovac CEO Yin Weidong told state broadcaster CCTV last week.

A spokesperson for Sinovac did not respond to a call requesting comment. China’s National Health Commission directed a news report to the AP that summarized Yin’s comments.

China’s state-owned Sinopharm, which has two inactivated vaccines in widespread use for adults, said it has submitted data to regulators on clinical trials for children aged 3 to 17.


Associated Press writers Chalida Ekvittayavechanukul and Fu Ting in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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