COVID-19: Why vaccinating children is not a priority –WHO

Lara Adejoro

The World Health Organisation says it is not prioritising vaccinating children because they are at much lower risk of getting severe COVID-19 infection compared to older adults.

Speaking during an interview session tagged ‘Science in 5’ and posted on its YouTube channel, the WHO Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan added that there are limited doses of COVID-19 vaccines and the most vulnerable must be protected.

Dr. Swaminathan said “The reason why in June 2021, WHO is saying vaccinating children is not a priority is that children, though they can get infected with COVID-19 and can transmit the infection to others, they are at much lower risk of getting the severe disease compared to older adults.

“And that is why when we started prioritising people who should get the vaccination when there are limited supplies of vaccines available in the country, we recommend that we start with health care workers and front line workers with a very high risk of exposure to the infection.

“Also, the elderly, the people who have underlying illnesses that make them at high risk to developing severe disease and start with those groups; protect them first because we want to reduce the death rates.

“And then gradually come down age-wise in the population till we get to children.”

The Chief Scientist, however, noted that while there may be some children who are at high risk of getting the severe disease because of some underlying illnesses or vulnerability or co-morbidities, those children could be potentially prioritised for vaccines when they become available but children as a group form a much lower priority group.

Asked if WHO will recommend vaccination for children in the future, the expert said most vaccine companies and developers are currently doing studies in children starting with the 12-18 years old and progressively going down to younger age groups.

“So, as that scientific data comes out of the studies, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts will look at this data as it comes and make recommendations on how the vaccine should be used in children.

“We have limited doses of vaccines, we need to use them to protect the most vulnerable,” she said.

She added that it’s not necessary for children to get vaccinated before they can go back to school.

“We’ve seen in many countries that schools have been kept open very successfully and as long as the adults who are working in the school environment are vaccinated and adults in the community are getting the vaccines so that infection rates are dropping, then by following the other public health methods that have been advised for school safety, schools should be able to open safely,” Swaminathan said.

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