Minister, government COVID-19 chief differ on teen vaccines in 2021

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Education minister Liina Kersna (Reform). Source: ERR

Education minister Liina Kersna (reform) says that high school teens could be vaccinated ahead of the start of the next academic year in the fall. The head of the government's own coronavirus advisory board, Professor Irja Lutsar, said recently that vaccinating younger people should only be done with caution, and has also said she does not thing vaccinations for teens are feasible this year.

While vaccine manufacturers are continuing research on the use of coronavirus doses on children, the prevailing expert opinion is that adolescents should be inoculated.

Kersna's desire is to make this happen with high school students before the next academic year in September.

All Estonian schools are currently on distance learning following the latest round of restrictions imposed earlier this month.

Kersna said Tuesday that: "Pfizer says their vaccine can be administered to 16-18 year-olds. If we are really able to vaccinate high school students in the summer, when the vaccination is available to everyone, this would provide us with a more stable school environment."

As reported by ERR News, Professor Lutsar said Tuesday that she didn't see the vaccination of young people likely before year-end.

Appearing on ETV magazine show "Terevisioon" Wednesday morning, education minister Liina Kersna also said that opening schools after the easter break could go ahead, depending on coronavirus infection rates.

"The opening of schools will not create the nationwide movement [of people] that other restrictions would create," she said.

At the same time, travel during the vacation, even within Estonia, could bring with it a rise in rates – which have recently started to go down following Estonia's "R" number dropping below the 1.0-mark.

"If we travel abroad during the school holidays, the risk is that infections will start to rise again. If we want children to return to school this spring, we will [however] have to keep contacts as low as possible," Kersna said on "Terevisioon".

Other noted virologist finds 2021 youth coronavirus vaccines feasible

Virologist Professor Andres Merits, like Professor Lutsar, from the University of Tartu, said that he, too, is more optimistic than Irja Lutsar on the issue of inoculating adolescents, whose vaccine results research should be ready by fall, he said.

At-risk groups should be covered first, but teens should be vaccinated as soon as possible and pending the research given that last spring's coronavirus wave occurred within the 15-19 age group, many of whom had been on vacation with their families.

As to when vaccinations might happen, Merits said: "The time-frame is is probably that this could happen any tune from the end of May, maybe the beginning of June, when the younger classes finish school for the year. During the summer or early fall, vaccinations would definitely be a very good idea."

As to vaccinating teachers – one of the priority groups – Kersna said that this was also a precondition for reopening schools and ending remote learning. Other precautions would include rapid testing at the start of the next school year, and proper ventilation systems in place in schools, she said.

Vaccine manufacturers pressing on with their trials among younger people

Pfizer/BioNTEch and Moderna, two of the three suppliers whose vaccines are in use in Estonia, are currently studying vaccine safety in children as young as six months of age, ERR reports, while other manufacturers are gradually following suit.

Pfizer/BioNTech has already studied its vaccines' effects on 16-year-olds, it is reported.

Irja Lutsar nonetheless has said that, while all depends on these trials, vaccination of teens on a large scale is unlikely this year.

"I do not see that the vaccination of adolescents will be widespread this year," she said Tuesday.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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