Introduction by Croakey: Late last week the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) announced it now supports COVID-19 vaccination in all adolescents from 12 years of age.
The next question will be around vaccinations for under 12s, who are making up a large proportion of new infections in Australia’s current outbreaks, which was not the case last year, according to Associate Professor Nicholas Wood from the Discipline of Childhood and Adolescent Health, University of Sydney, in this recent article at The Conversation.
Wood says cases are on the rise among children in New South Wales, but to date this hasn’t been accompanied by a large increase in paediatric hospitalisations. Two weeks ago Victorian authorities revealed that more than 20 percent of the positive cases in Melbourne’s sixth lockdown are children under the age of 10 and an infant was among those hospitalised.
The ATAGI approval for 12-15 year olds comes on top of its earlier recommendation for Pfizer vaccinations for teenagers with specified underlying risk conditions, including NDIS participants, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and all children in remote communities, and will take effect from September 13.
Melbourne paediatrician Dr Vikram Palit writes below that this rollout “can’t come soon enough”.
Dr Vikram Palit writes:
As a paediatrician, I welcome the news that the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine has been approved for use in all children aged 12 to 15 years. This is a necessary next step and one that will avert significant illness, preventable deaths and reverse the endless disruption to learning and social opportunities affecting children in Australia.
Thankfully for teenagers, there is only one approved vaccine.
The confusing, often inaccurate and sometimes bizarre messaging surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine has spurred a recent resurgence in the anti-vax movement and slowed down an already beleaguered vaccine roll-out.
For parents and teens aged 12-17 years, the message is clear: only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in this age-group against contracting Covid-19.
As healthcare providers charged with the care of children, promoting vaccinations is part and parcel of what we do.
Immunisations have long been a paediatric discipline and the majority of vaccines in the national immunisation program are designated for children. These are however brand-new vaccines, and the decision to vaccinate children against Covid-19 has not been taken lightly.
As this pandemic has ensued parents have often asked me if their child, often with chronic medical conditions or otherwise immunocompromised, should have the vaccine.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), tasked with determining vaccine effectiveness, have found that in adolescents there is a ‘high level evidence indicating strong immunogenicity and vaccine efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19’.
Based on the best available data on vaccine efficacy and comforted in the knowledge that millions of children worldwide have been vaccinated safely, the benefits of vaccinating this age-group far outweighs any risk of rare side-effects.
Of interest to the field of child and adolescent health is the sustained media attention surrounding vaccinations with daily reporting of vaccination numbers, political debate concerning mandatory vaccinations, and the wide range of incentives currently on offer and proposed.
This is a fascinating new development and one that will set the scene and evidence base for future vaccination policy. Reasons behind vaccine hesitancy are inherently complex and encompass more than just knowledge deficit.
Paediatric specialists and primary care providers have long practiced the art of addressing vaccine hesitancy, armed not just with the science, but with careful reassurance and an honest approach that builds trust and focuses on protecting the child and community.
Effective 13 September, approximately 1.2 million children will become eligible for the vaccine, and we will be ready to play our part both in the vaccine roll-out and effective messaging surrounding it.
With quiet optimism, our hope is that this same energy and increased awareness will have positive flow-on effects on the childhood immunisation schedule, annual flu vaccinations, school-aged HPV program, adult boosters, and the list goes on.
We have been fortunate in Australia to largely avoid the direct, physical impact of the COVID-19 virus on children.
As paediatric clinicians, we have watched with bated breath as our colleagues overseas have reported numerous cases of severe COVID disease in children with significant respiratory compromise and multi-system inflammatory syndromes.
Worryingly, the spread of the Delta variant in New South Wales has shown us that young people are both increasingly susceptible to becoming unwell from the virus, and capable of actively spreading the disease.
This on top of the considerable toll of repeated lockdowns and school closures on missed educational opportunities and social interaction, accelerating mental illness and the untold impact on developing brains.
To mitigate the long-term impact of COVID-19, to protect our young people and to protect our society, we need to vaccinate children. This can’t come soon enough.
Dr Vikram Palit is a Paediatric Clinical and Research Fellow, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and a Senior Lecturer, Health Systems Science, UNSW Sydney. You can follow him at Twitter on: @doctor_vik
See Croakey’s archive of stories about vaccination.
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