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Should Australia vaccinate children against COVID-19?

Should Australia vaccinate children against COVID-
Photo: COVID vaccine for children
Experts suggest vaccination of children must be part of Australia’s exit strategy, especially with the Delta variant.

As a result of the current Greater Sydney COVID-19 outbreak with the Delta variant, we have seen numerous school children exposed, with hundreds of students from affected schools having to test and self-isolate.

Recent reports from countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Israel and the UK also suggest a spike in the number of school children exposed to the more transmissible, Delta variant.

Currently, the US is vaccinating children over the age of 12, with Singapore prioritising the vaccination of 12 to 18-year-olds ahead of adults aged 19 to 39 years. The UK recently approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children aged 12 to 15.

Is it time Australia considered vaccinating children? Professor Raina MacIntyre, Head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney, thinks so.
“Yes, if vaccination is to be our exit strategy from the pandemic, it is essential that children are vaccinated, especially as more transmissible variants like Delta are becoming dominant globally,” said Professor MacIntyre.

“Initially, we should start as soon as possible with children 12 years and over. Kids in this age range transmit as much as adults. Eventually, we will also need to look at younger kids as other countries are doing, looking at six years of age and over.”

More children with Delta variant
Why are we seeing more children and young people being infected with the Delta variant as opposed to previous strains of SARS-CoV-2? Professor MacIntyre explained while there is still not enough firm evidence, data coming out of the UK suggests Delta has more predilection for children.

“There have been many school outbreaks, including in Sydney. Partly, it could be that adults are more highly vaccinated, which then pushes infection into younger unvaccinated groups.

But it also could be a genuine increase in the risk of symptomatic infection in kids. We have also seen child-to-child transmission in the current Sydney outbreak. This makes schools a high-risk site.”

In a recent article published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Professor MacIntyre made reference to two peer-reviewed studies around long COVID in children.

One study estimated more than seven per cent of children aged 2 to 11 years who contract SARS-CoV-2 will develop long COVID. The other study found over half of children between 6 and 16 years of age with COVID-19 had at least one symptom lasting more than four months, with 42.6 per cent suffering impairment of daily activities.

Professor MacIntyre said when considering the life expectancy of children, arguably they have the most to lose from persistence of the pandemic so they should be included in any vaccination program.

“We have known since last year that kids aged ten and over transmit as effectively as adults. The data are more mixed in kids under the age of ten, but Delta seems to be able to cause outbreaks in younger kids.”

In the MJA article, Professor MacIntyre; Dr Andrew Miller, President of the Australian Medical Association’s WA branch; and Dr Julie McEniery from the QLD Paediatric Quality Council suggested the stakes have been raised with more transmissible variants such as the Delta strain, and vaccination of children must be part of Australia’s exit strategy.

“For economic recovery, our best bet is herd immunity, and we will never know if we can achieve it unless we try.”

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