Pfizer has developed a Covid vaccine for five-11-year-olds. Should New Zealand race in, or hold back on getting our children immunised?
If the Covid-19 vaccines and mandates weren’t divisive enough, here’s more fuel to the fire – vaccinating children.
The US started rolling out its programme at the start of this month for youngsters aged five to 11 years old after the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the paediatric Pfizer jab.
Meanwhile Costa Rica has become the first country in the world to make the inoculations mandatory for children.
And last week MedSafe received the application from Pfizer for the use of the vaccine here.
Today The Detail’s Jessie Chiang looks at the case for vaccinating children and what a rollout would look like.
There are more than 460,000 five-to-11 year olds in New Zealand, according to Stats NZ.
Dr Jin Russell, a developmental paediatrician in Auckland, says the vaccine needs to be “very, very, very safe if we’re going to give it to healthy children, because the risk of Covid-19 to a healthy child is low”.
She says in Australia where there have been 41,000 cases of Covid among those under 18 years old, only very few cases have needed to go to ICU.
But even though children aren’t as affected by Covid-19 as adults, Russell says there are still reasons for vaccinating them.
Those include doing so to protect children with pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable, the lack of paediatric ICU beds, and recognising the disproportionate effect Covid has on Māori and Pasifika.
Middlemore Hospital paediatrician Dr Teuila Percival agrees.
She says children with chronic lung or heart problems, neurological disabilities and immune deficiencies have a one in 20 chance of needing hospital treatment if they get Covid, as opposed to a healthy child who has a one in 500 chance.
“There’s an ethnic lens that needs to be put on Covid disease, so in New Zealand, we know that Māori and Pacific adults are more likely to get more severe Covid illness than Pākehā New Zealanders,” she says.
Percival says any vaccine rollout for children needs to be in consultation with the community.
“So when the community come up with suggestions we run with that and resource that, rather than just coming up with a rigid booking system,” she says.
The Detail also speaks to Angela Lowe, the principal of Newlands Intermediate in Wellington and the incoming president of the Association of Intermediate and Middle Schools.
She talks about the role of schools in vaccination programmes and the types of responses from families she’s seen.