Government COVID-19 chief: Vaccines unlikely this year for children, teens

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Professor Irja Lutsar. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Head of the government's coronavirus advisory council Professor Irja Lutsar says that younger people are unlikely to receive a coronavirus vaccine this year. While older teens may be practically classed as adults, the professor identified ethical issues in vaccinating smaller children, who generally don't suffer the harsher effects of the virus, in order to prevent its spread among old people.

While the prevailing opinion among experts worldwide is in favor of vaccinating adolescents at least, Lutsar said, research in the area and including inoculating children is still ongoing.

Lutsar said Tuesday that: "The research has really got going, with [the three firms whose vaccines have arrived in Estonia so far] Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca carrying out theirs, and plans to start at Johnson & Johnson (whose first deliveries are expected next month as things stand – ed.). However, a cautious approach has been taken, which is also understandable."

"So I don't see how the vaccination of adolescents will be widely complete this year. However, the scientific world is relatively unanimous that adolescents should be vaccinated," she went on.

With younger children, it was questionable whether they needed vaccinating at all, she said. "As far as young children are concerned, there are still discussions going on about whether they need to be vaccinated at all."

"Particularly considering that children suffer the virus only lightly, and vaccination is mainly aimed at cutting the viral spread within society. In other words, we can protect adults from becoming infected, by vaccinating children," she added.

Thus the effects of vaccinating children need to be very clear, she said. "In this case, the vaccine must be very well tolerated by children."

This in turn also means vaccinations before the new school year (i.e. September) seem unlikely.

"As research and discussions go on, views can change; yes, we are moving in that direction [of vaccinations for children], but I cannot see this happening ahead of the new school year," she added.

Young people should be divided in turn into several groups, the professor added: very small children, older children, teenagers – with the latter potentially sub-divided into younger teenagers and young adults (15-18), she said.

The main consideration in research of the effects of the vaccine in children concerns the right quantity of doses, she said – which needs to be at a level where they will develop the same level of antibodies that adults do.

Side effects also need to be looked at, just as they do with adults, she said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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