Final green light for children’s COVID vaccines due by the end of the week

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Australia’s expert vaccination group will finalise its approval of COVID-19 vaccines for younger children by the end of the week, with the country’s top health authorities confident there will be a strong uptake among five to 11-year-olds.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is also considering whether people who are immunocompromised and require three doses to be considered fully vaccinated should receive a fourth dose as a booster.

ATAGI is expected to approve vaccines for five to 11-year-olds by the end of the week, and the government is confident it will have more than enough supplies to cover that cohort.Credit:AP

The medical regulator approved the Pfizer vaccine for the five to 11 age group on the weekend and the Commonwealth is preparing for a January 10 start to the rollout, but the vaccine first needs the green light from ATAGI.

ATAGI co-chair Professor Chris Blythe said the group has been examining information on children’s vaccinations from the US and was finalising its advice to government this week.

“We have looked at the safety data in this age group very carefully,” he told the Senate COVID-19 committee on Tuesday.

Professor Blythe said ATAGI was still considering the timing of both doses. Pfizer’s doses can be delivered three to six weeks apart and for adults the current recommendation is for three weeks between first and second shots.

“There are some benefits of longer intervals,” he said, including better strength and length of immune protection and lower rates of adverse events.

Regardless of the interval between doses, the rollout for young children will be delivered through term one of the school year, Professor Blythe said, because it was the most practical time to deliver vaccines to the 2.3 million children in that age group. It is expected the majority will be delivered through primary care.

Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said Australia has one of the highest childhood immunisation rates in the world, and he believes it will also be high with the COVID-19 vaccines.

“I’m actually quite confident that the childhood rate will increase, and as we get more and more confident with the data, I think we’ll get a good uptake,” he told the committee.

Five to 11-year-olds require a smaller dose than older people – 10 micrograms per dose, rather than 30 – which has required different packaging.

Operation COVID Shield coordinator Lieutenant General John Frewen said the government is currently negotiating with Pfizer over supplies of those paediatric doses.

“[We] believe we will have adequate supply early in the new year to cover the entire cohort,” he said.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said already 5 million children in the US have received the paediatric doses of Pfizer, and the data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention was reassuring.

“They reported on their experience with vaccines, side effects, which are generally very minor and not unexpected,” Professor Kelly said on Tuesday.

Data on the much rarer but serious side effects of heart or heart lining inflammation showed that it was “an extremely rare event” in five to 11-year-olds.

“It’s a worthwhile safe and effective vaccine in that age group, and I would encourage everyone to take it up,” Professor Kelly said.

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