- Paediatricians have welcomed the approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children.
- They say the third wave has seen more children being infected by the virus.
- They stress that Covid-19 vaccines are safe for children.
Paediatricians have welcomed the approval of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for children, saying it will help accelerate the country reaching community immunity.
On Friday, the SA Health Products Authority (Sahpra) approved the use of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine on children aged 12 and older, after receiving updated information from the manufacturers.
Sinovac also started conducting Covid-19 phase three clinical trials in paediatrics from Friday. The trials will be conducted on 2 000 children aged from six months to 17 years. They will be conducted at seven research sites across the country.
The trials will enrol 14 000 children from South Africa, Chile, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Kenya.
Executive member of the South African Paediatric Association (SAPA), Professor Mignon McCulloch, says the organisation has been asking that children aged 12 to 18 with comorbidities be vaccinated.
The organisation, she says, is happy that most children will be able to get vaccinated under the new permission given to Pfizer by Sahpra.
She says clinical trials in children are important to determine when it would be best to administer vaccines.
"There have been very few trials done in children compared to those in adults. Now that we are looking at vaccinating children it is important to do some trials and learn when it is the best time to give it, how high the antibodies go more than whether the vaccine is safe or not."
McCulloch says children didn't receive vaccines at the same time as adults because of the severity of disease in older people.
"The only reason we didn't start with children is because with this infection the people who are the most easily and harshly affected are the older people. We are confident that these vaccines are safe in pregnant women, in breastfeeding women and in teenagers."
She says the third wave, dominated by the Delta variant, has also seen more children being infected. Hence, the need to get them vaccinated as quickly as possible.
"We've seen more children being infected but have not seen large waves of children being admitted to hospitals yet. Let's get the vaccines out there before we get there."
Dr Jaco Murray, a paediatrician at Paarl Hospital, agrees that the third wave hit children more than the other waves.
MeCRU Clinical Research Unit, at @SMU_SA has been officially launched as the research site for Phase III Paediatric COVID-19 Vaccine study conducted by the Numolux Group & Sinovac on Friday, 10 September 2021. #WeAreSMU. Issued: 10 September 2021. pic.twitter.com/NKET2YWXKy— Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU) (@SMU_SA) September 10, 2021
"In the third wave, there are children who died of Covid-19. It's not that Covid-19 doesn't affect children. We hope that they can prove now Covid-19 vaccines can protect children from severe illness.
"We had more infections and more severe infections [in children] with the third wave. The concern is that if the virus mutates further, there might be a variant that affects children even more."
He says the last two weeks have seen a decline in the number of children testing positive for the virus, indicating that the third wave was waning.
Other than protecting children against severe disease and death, vaccinating them means hope that life might get back to normal again, McCulloch says.
"If everyone gets vaccinated, it means everybody can go back to school. We don't have to lose any more time. Some kids have lost up to two years in education. Lots of kids haven't been going to school and that is where they get their soup and bread and now they are going hungry. It's really important to get our society some degree of normality."
Since Sinovac announced their clinical trials will include children as young as six months, there has been criticism of the company.
McCulloch says the criticism is misplaced because children receive the expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) as early as 10 weeks.
McCulloch believes the Covid-19 vaccine might become part of the prescribed EPI vaccines.
"Otherwise we will never get back to normality, we will be worried about the sixth wave and seventh wave. We know that Delta spreads more rapidly in adults and kids. We are trying to protect our children."
Murray says it's important to do trials in children as they might have different health outcomes to adults.
"Children are not small adults. Their bodies work differently and how they manage infections is different. They might also be more susceptible to adverse effects. It's very important to check in children, to make sure it is safe."
As the country prepares for the paediatric vaccines, McCulloch believes education and allaying parents' fears must be at the top of the agenda.
"We need to get good education out there. We need to tell people that the vaccines are safe."
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