The Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko) recommends vaccinating previously ill children between the ages of six months and four years against Covid-19. The panel also considers it appropriate to immunize children at this age who are surrounded by people at increased risk for a severe course of infection with the coronavirus.
The Stiko published its new recommendation on Covid-19 vaccination of young children Thursday afternoon in the Epidemiologic Bulletin of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).
As Stiko chairman Thomas Mertens explained in advance in a press briefing, no statement could be made about rare risks of vaccination because of the small amount of data available. They would have to be weighed against the benefits of vaccination. Mertens went on to say that the Stiko is continuously reviewing data on childhood vaccinations. An expansion of the recommendation is therefore possible in the future, he said.
The group of children with pre-existing conditions includes in particular premature infants, as Stiko member Martin Terhardt pointed out. These children are particularly frequently affected by a severe course of Covid 19. The first two years of life are crucial for them, which is why the Stiko advocates immunization of this group of children. Children with, for example, trisomy-21, severe obesity, tumor diseases or other risk factors should also be vaccinated. That is about ten percent of children in the age group of six months to four years.
At the end of October, the EU Commission approved two vaccines from the manufacturers Biontech and Moderna for babies and toddlers aged six months and older. However, the Spikevax vaccine from Moderna is currently hardly available in Germany in the lower doses designed for children.
Stiko had already recommended that children five years of age and older be vaccinated against Sars-Cov-2 with a single dose. According to Terhardt, 22 percent of five- to eleven-year-olds are currently vaccinated with a single dose against Covid-19 - something the Stiko would like to see differently, however: "We advise that this vaccination be adopted," Terhardt, a pediatrician and adolescent physician in Berlin, made clear. However, the Stiko was also initially reluctant to recommend the Corona vaccine for children of primary school age.
The new decision of the Stiko was "expected and also understandable," said Jörg Dötsch, president of the German Society for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, when asked. This is because children with risk factors in particular are at risk of suffering a severe course of the infection.
Also, he said, the current Stiko decision is understandable with regard to the protection of people at increased risk in the environment. "The groups mentioned as being particularly at risk are often direct caregivers such as parents or grandparents," says Dötsch.
Dötsch believes the fact that the vaccine is not adapted to the Omicron variant is less critical. "The adapted vaccine basically works less well in terms of infection risk than hoped for." Much more important, he says, is protection against severe courses anyway. "The original vaccine also protects against that just as well."
Dötsch went on to say that, in addition, PIMS, a severe inflammatory reaction of the body after Covid-19 disease, is hardly ever observed in children with the Omicron variant now being disseminated. And there are currently no reliable data on the number of young children affected by Long Covid, he said. "However, we believe that Long Covid is an extreme rarity in this age group."
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya