The COVID-19 vaccine race initially focused on getting the elderly and medically vulnerable protected before gradually moving through the rest of the adult population and then children.
In the latest EU figures, 82.2 per cent of the adult population in the bloc have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 13.4 per cent have received a booster dose.
The emergence of the Omicron variant and the arrival of winter have put vaccination campaigns under the spotlight once again.
So, where is Europe up to with regards to vaccinating children?
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12-15 in May this year and for children aged 5-11 in November, the first COVID-19 vaccine to be given such approval in the EU. The rollout is expected to start in the 5-11 age group from December 13 in some European countries.
The authorisation for the 12-15 year-olds was based on a study involving 2,259 children in the age group which showed that their immune response was comparable to those in the age 16-25 cohort.
None of the children who received the vaccine developed COVID-19, compared to 16 who did develop COVID-19 after receiving a placebo.
For those aged 5-11 years-old a similar study was carried out with 2000 children. They were given a smaller dose than those aged 12 and above, and of the 1,305 children receiving the vaccine, three developed COVID-19 compared with 16 out of the 663 children who received a placebo.
This means that, in this study, the vaccine was 90.7 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19.
The EMA also approved the Moderna vaccine for use in the 12-17 age group in July. This time, a study of 3,732 children in this particular age group showed none of those who received the vaccine contracted COVID-19 compared to four in the placebo group.
The use of the Moderna vaccine among children aged 5-11 is currently being assessed by the EMA.
There has been a debate over the merits of vaccinating children who do not have underlying conditions as the chances of them developing a severe illness from COVID-19 are quite low, and this has to be balanced against the potential side effects of the vaccine.
The EMA acknowledged that the limited numbers in the studies involving children meant that they could not detect rare side effects. However, they concluded that the benefits of the vaccines for this younger age group outweighed any potential negatives.
There has also been some concern over cases of myocarditis and pericarditis following the administration of mRNA vaccines.
A Harvard article in July reported that there had been 1,000 cases after 300 million vaccinations in the US following either Pfizer or Moderna jabs. The majority of the cases were in teens or young adults.
The article also says that 79 per cent of these cases in young people were mild.
Despite vaccines having been approved for 12-18 year-olds by the European medicines regulator for the last two months, not all EU governments or health agencies have followed its lead.
However, many countries have started to open their vaccination programmes to children over the age of 12. This is how they compare.
The vaccination programme for those under 18 in the UK had an uncertain beginning. The four devolved governments had slightly different approaches and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended on September 3 not to vaccinate children aged 12-15. They said at the time that there was not enough evidence to recommend expanding the rollout to that group.
They concluded that with just two in every million healthy children needing intensive care treatment for COVID-19, the benefits of vaccination were “insufficient to support a universal offer”.
However, the committee left the door open to ministers to go down a different route, and it was decided that children over 12 should receive the vaccine.
All teenagers aged 16 and 17 in England started to be offered vaccines as of August 23, and 12-15 year-olds followed in September. At the beginning of December, approximately 44.4 per cent of 12-15 year-olds have had at least one dose, according to the country’s national health service.
Initially this age group was only offered one dose, but in response to concerns about the Omicron variant, a second dose is now being offered.
In Scotland, 59.1 per cent of 12-15 year-olds have received at least one dose. In Wales, it stands at 54 per cent while Northern Ireland does not provide a breakdown of the figures for the age cohort.
There is no vaccine currently approved for under-12s in the UK.
In Italy, 72.49 per cent of 12-19 year-olds have received at least one dose, according to the Italian government’s vaccine report released on December 3.
The country authorised the Pfizer vaccine for 5-11 year-olds on December 1 following the EMA’s recent green light.
Italy reported 103 coronavirus-related deaths on the same day, the first daily death toll of more than 100 since June 8.
Initially, vaccines were only recommended for children with underlying conditions, but in the wake of the spread of the Delta variant, it was decided on August 16 to offer a vaccine to all children over 12.
The STIKO committee – the expert body which advises the German government on vaccines – said in a statement that the decision came after examining new safety data, especially from the US, following the vaccination of around 10 million teens.
They said that given “the current state of knowledge, the advantages of vaccination outweigh the risk of very rare vaccine side effects”.
There have been concerns over myocarditis, the very rare heart muscle inflammation observed in connection with the vaccination, especially in vaccinated young males.
However, STIKO said that most of these people went to hospital and were successfully treated. They also underlined the general risk of COVID-19 itself to cardiac health.
The country has so far fully vaccinated 47.3 per cent of 12-17 year-olds, according to government figures on December 6.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that a COVID vaccine for children under 12 will likely be available from the first quarter of 2022, according to Funke media group.
Ireland has had a remarkably high vaccine uptake in the adult population.
Close to 90 per cent of the population over 12 have been fully vaccinated and just over 60 per cent of the population aged 10-19 have received at least one dose.
The country has been focusing mainly on its booster vaccine campaign in recent weeks.
Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee has to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine in the 5-11 age cohort before it can be rolled out, but it is expected that they will in the next two weeks.
According to the Polish government’s statistics, 20,901,641 people in the country have received at least one dose and 20,470,166 are fully vaccinated as of December 3, which is around half of Poland’s population.
Pfizer and Moderna have both been approved for over 12s, with the former being approved back in June. So far, 1.7 million doses have been given to children aged 12-17, according to the official statistics on December 3.
It is quite a low take-up and there were plans for vaccinations to be rolled out through schools. However, enthusiasm for this plan was low and some parents objected. Since September 13, there has only been an additional 300,000 doses given to this age group.
Polish Health Ministry spokesman Wojciech Andrusiewicz told state-run news agency PAP that Poland would start vaccinating children aged 5-11 in December.
France was one of the first countries to open vaccinations to those over 12, doing so on June 15.
Some 79 per cent of 12-17 year-olds have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to figures released by Santé Publique France on December 3, while 76 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Since the end of September, adolescents over 12 have been required to use the French health pass. This pass proves the holder’s vaccine status or confirms that they have recently been tested, and is needed to access places such as cinemas or restaurants.
While it has proved controversial, its introduction has seen an uptake in vaccinations.
France’s health regulator backed vaccination for vulnerable children aged 5-11 on November 30.
According to the Spanish Health Ministry’s latest health report from December 3, 87.6 per cent of the approx 3.9 million 12 to 19 year-olds in Spain have already received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 84.5 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The decision as to whether or not to offer the vaccine to those under 18 comes under regional authorities. As a result, different areas initially started offering vaccines at different times.
Spain plans to begin vaccinating children aged 5-11 as soon as possible, with 1.3 million doses of Pfizer’s paediatric vaccine due to arrive on December 13, Health Minister Carolina Darias announced.
The Danish Health Authority gave the green light to vaccinating children in the 12-15 age range in June, with vaccinations starting in July.
Their vaccine rollout has been strong and has included the over-12s.
To date, 76 per cent of the entire country’s population are fully vaccinated.
Over 200,000 Danish children in the 12-15 age group are fully vaccinated.
Danish health authorities said that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination will be offered to children in the 5-11 years age group following the authorisation by the EMA.
Switzerland approved the Pfizer vaccine for children over 12 in early June.
According to the latest Swiss health figures published on December 3, 35.99 per cent of children aged 10-19 are fully vaccinated and 40.35 per cent have received at least one dose.
Sweden only started opening up appointments to minors in August, and then just to 16 to 18 year-olds, before eventually opening up to over 12s.
The percentage of children under 18 who have received one dose is 12.2 per cent and 10.6 per cent are fully vaccinated, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
Share this article