Experts are divided on the risk-benefit of the vaccine in this age group, with some pointing out the low severity of the disease among the youngest and others stressing the risk of leaving space for the possible spread of new variants. However, there are already countries moving forward with this process, even when many nations are still lagging behind in vaccinating their adult population.
How is the vaccination plan planned for young people at the moment?
The Minister of Health, Marta Temido, has already said that the preliminary opinions of the Technical Vaccination Commission against covid-19 point to “a prioritization of the age group from 18 to 16 years old” and “a prioritization of vaccination of children with multiple medical problems in the age group” between 15 and 12 years old, despite having stressed that the Government is prepared for any scenario on this matter.
The coordinator of the task force of the vaccination plan stated at the last meeting at Infarmed that the vaccination of 16 and 17 year olds starts on the weekend of 14 and 15 August and that the two following weekends are reserved for teenagers from 12 to 15 years old. Vice Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo made no reference to a limitation on young people with multiple medical problems, but limited the operation to the DGS's approval.
What is missing to move this process forward?
The decision of the DGS, which had requested two weeks to study the opinions of the Technical Commission on Vaccination against Covid-19 in young people and the vaccination schedules, to define a position, which should be known by the end of this month or beginning of August.
What are the arguments in favor of Covid-19 vaccination in children and youth?
Among the arguments most cited by experts are: the need for vaccination of this population to achieve herd immunity, due to the prevalence of the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has proven to be more transmissible and have a higher risk of causing serious disease in infected people; the high value of vaccines in protecting against the virus, reducing not only the risk of contagion but also a possible severe illness in case of infection; the risk of the younger people disseminate new and more dangerous variants.
Arguments also include the current significant proportion of this age group in the number of new cases, the importance of ensuring greater stability for the school year in schools, reducing the likelihood of infections or prophylactic isolations, and not being subjected to an invasive diagnostic test, PCR or antigen.
What are the arguments against vaccinating children and young people against covid-19?
Several physicians from different specialties are against to the vaccination in healthy children and young people, considering that the benefits of the vaccine in this age group do not outweigh the risks.
Through an open letter released last week, these experts argued that the argument of protecting the elderly to justify vaccination in young people "is not ethically acceptable", they argue that the vaccine has little benefit in this age group, reminding that the disease is manifests in this population almost always mildly or asymptomatic and points to some more serious side effects, such as a relationship of vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna) with a very rare risk of cardiac inflammation.
What do national health sector institutions say about the issue?
The president of the Medical Association (OM) recently stated that OM "will always support the decision of the DGS" on this matter. Speaking to Jornal de Notícias, Miguel Guimarães assured, however, that he was “convinced that the DGS will recommend the vaccination of children against Covid-19, in the age group from 12 to 15 years old”, although he previously stressed that this issue “it must always be faced careful”.
In turn, the Nurses Association (OE) defended this week in a statement to be "prudent to wait" for more scientific information on the benefits and effects in the medium and long term on the vaccination of children and young people between 12 and 15 years. However, in the case of children aged 12 years or less, with comorbidities associated with high risk for covid-19, the OE considers that they should be advisedby the professional responsible for their follow-up.
What do international agencies say?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has insisted that vaccinating children and young people is not a priority, given the imbalances in vaccination in the world and for defending that the control of the pandemic requires control in all countries and not just in the richest and developed.
According to the official website of this United Nations agency, “children and teenagers usually have milder illnesses compared to adults, so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of having Covid-19 serious, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers”.
WHO adds that "further evidence on the use of different vaccines in children is needed to make general recommendations on vaccinating children against covid-19".
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has already authorized the administration of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to young people between 12 and 17 years old in the European Union, saying that studies indicated that inoculation in this group produced an antibody response similar to that seen in young adults (18-25) and also experienced similar side effects.
The European regulator noted that the benefits of covid-19 vaccination in young people outweigh the risks.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC, its acronym in English) of the United States of America is, in turn, more assertive on the subject, clearly defending the vaccination of children over 12 years. “The CDC recommends that everyone age 12 and older should receive a vaccine to help protect against Covid-19. Widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic. People who are fully vaccinated can resume the activities they used to do before the pandemic”, can be read on the official website of the American entity.
Which countries have already made progress in vaccinating younger people?
United States of America (USA), Israel, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland, among other countries, have already advanced with the vaccination process for the age group between 12 and 17 years.
The distinction is between those who chose to universally vaccinate this entire age group, such as the USA, Italy, France and Austria, and those who only vaccinate children between 12 and 15 years old who have severe health problems considered to be at risk for Covid-19, such as the UK, Germany, Sweden and Finland.