According to Wednesday’s statement, “Countries should take into account the individual and collective benefits of immunizing children and adolescents in the context of their particular epidemiological or social context when developing COVID-19 programs and policies.”
WHO has always argued that vaccines should be given to older adults, those with chronic conditions and workers in the health sector. It is also not urgent to immunize children. This new statement recognizes that certain countries have distributed vaccines to prioritized groups such as the United States. They are also now distributing vaccines to children.
“Given the current global inequity of vaccine access, the choice to vaccinate adolescents or children must account for prioritization in order to fully protect the most at-risk subgroups through primary vaccination series and, as vaccine effectiveness declines with the time since vaccination, via booster doses,” stated the WHO statement.
“As such it is imperative to ensure high coverage in primary vaccination series for adolescents and children – as well as booster doses as required based upon evidence of waning/optimizing vaccination impact – in high risk subgroups such as older adults before considering implementing primary vaccine series.”
The push to vavacinate the world
WHO has long called on global vaccine equity.
WHO asked the 20 most powerful leaders in the world and the top pharmaceutical executives to end the “disgraceful inequity” in vaccine access by the fall.
“Whether children get vaccinated will depend on, firstly how we are capable to cover these priority groups first, and what the epidemiology is of the disease,” Dr. Soumya Swminathan, WHO Chief Scientist, said Wednesday, at a Geneva news briefing.
She also stated that children need more data to understand the extent of natural infection in their age group. This will differ from country to country.
Swaminathan stated, “Then, when we reach the goals of reducing transmission to really low levels, then one might consider, obviously, vaccinating kids as well.”
She stated that she believes the guidance for children will be contextualized and tailored to each local context. “But, before we can make any further recommendations, we need to wait until more vaccines are available to get the data from children.”
WHO’s interim statement notes that vaccines for children and adolescents have many benefits beyond health benefits. It also points out that vaccines can keep schools open and reduce coronavirus transmission among other age groups. This includes older adults.
WHO states that children should continue to receive their recommended childhood vaccines against other infectious diseases.
WHO released data in July showing that 23 million children were not vaccinated last year. That’s 3.7 million more than the 2019 figure.
Tedros stated in the July announcement that “even as countries clamor for COVID-19 vaccines,” he said.
“Multiple diseases outbreaks would be disastrous for communities and health system already fighting COVID-19. This makes it even more urgent to invest in childhood vaccinations and ensure that every child is vaccinated.”