If China is to meet its tentative goal of vaccinating 80% of its population against the coronavirus by the end of the year, tens of millions of children may have to start rolling up their sleeves.
Regulators took the first step last week by approving the use of the country's Sinovac vaccine for children aged 3 to 17, though no announcement has been made about when the shots will start.
Children have been largely spared the worst of the pandemic, becoming infected less easily than adults and generally showing less severe symptoms when they do catch the virus. But experts say children can still transmit the virus to others and some note that if countries are going to achieve herd immunity through their vaccination campaigns, inoculating children should be part of the plan.
“Vaccinating children is an important step forward,” said Jin Dong-yan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong’s medical school.
Doing so, however, may be easier said than done for reasons ranging from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine availability.
Even in countries with enough vaccines to go around, some governments are having problems convincing adults that the shots are safe and necessary despite studies demonstrating they are. Such concerns can be amplified when dealing with society’s youngest.
There's also the issue of approval. Few regulators around the world have evaluated the safety of COVID-19 shots in kids, with the majority of shots approved only for adults right now. But the approvals are starting. The United States, Canada, Singapore and Hong Kong are all allowing the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children as young as 12.
The Sinovac announcement could open the way for the vaccine, already in use in dozens of countries from Brazil to Indonesia, to be given to children across the world.
In Thailand, where Sinovac makes up the bulk of the country’s vaccine supply, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul welcomed the news that China had approved emergency use for children.
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