In Europe, the vaccine from Biontech and Pfizer has so far been approved for people aged twelve and over. In Israel and the USA, children from the age of five can be vaccinated with it. In Austria – for example in Vienna, Tyrol and Upper Austria – so far there are only “off label” vaccinations (the use of drugs outside the licensing area) for children under twelve.
Children only get a third of the dose. Nearly 2,300 children between the ages of five and eleven took part in the registration study for the Biontech Pfizer vaccine. According to the manufacturer, the effectiveness is 91 percent. “That is a particularly good value,” said the virologist Christoph Steininger to Ö1. The said study was already under the condition of the more aggressive Delta variant – in contrast to the first approval studies for the vaccine.
One side effect after a vaccination is above all fatigue. According to Steininger, this is the “most common side effect” at around 30 percent. Fever rarely occurred – in around five to ten percent of those vaccinated. It was similar with pain in the limbs and joints.
Risk assessments “different from adults”
Risk assessments in terms of CoV infection and illness in children are “different than in adults,” said Volker Strenger, pediatrician at the University of Graz, in the Ö1 morning journal. In adults, the aim is to prevent possible deaths and admission to intensive care units; in children, such cases are very rare. “Children don’t get very sick very often,” but it can still happen.
“With a vaccination that is currently very safe and causes fewer vaccination reactions than in adolescents, the benefit predominates,” says Strenger. However, concerns should be understood, including the thought that children could not become so seriously ill anyway, also played a role. But Strenger pointed out that “it is not the case that they cannot become seriously ill”.
High numbers of infections in children
He also referred to the high number of infections among unvaccinated people, including many children. Assuming that everyone who is not vaccinated will be infected at some point, the complications may not be as common in individual cases, but overall more complications would be seen when more children become infected. “The benefits outweigh the benefits,” says Strenger.
The United States is being closely monitored: over three million five to eleven year olds have already been vaccinated there. “Even very rare side effects, such as myocarditis, have not yet been observed to an extent that would be worrying,” said Strenger. In adolescents this is a very rare side effect, in one million people vaccinated there are around 70 cases of very mild myocarditis – but this has not been observed in children.
Pediatrician Zwiauer: CoV “incalculable risk”
According to Karl Zwiauer, a specialist in paediatrics and a member of the National Vaccination Committee (NIG), no childhood disease leads to as many hospital and intensive care stays as Covid-19. According to data from the Austrian Society for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (ÖGKJ), one to three children and adolescents per week ended up in intensive care units in the third wave of pandemics in April.
As a comparison, the pediatrician named measles, from which one in 1,000 infected children becomes seriously ill. “With the vaccination, we got that under control,” he stated, saying that the same result is to be achieved with the CoV vaccination of five to eleven year old children. Because CoV represents an “incalculable risk” for children. Zwiauer as well as Steininger and Strenger also cited “Long Covid” as a possible danger in the case of children.