Australia is considering whether to launch a booster program for young people under the age of 18, according to leading medical authorities.
The announcement came after more than 35,000 children had their first COVID-19 jab on the first day of the primary rollout for five to 11-year-old on Monday.
While more Australians are queuing to get their booster shots following the Omicron outbreak, the third shots are currently only recommended for people aged 18 and older.
A federal health department spokesman said the government was working to support applications for child boosters once more information was available.
“The Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently evaluating data on the Pfizer COVID-19 booster for individuals aged 16 to 17 years of age,” the spokesman told AAP.
“The Australian government continues to encourage individuals to complete a two-dose vaccination schedule, as this enables strong protection against severe illness and hospitalisation.”
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), the country’s leading immunisation group, is consulting the government about whether to make boosters available for under 18s and how often they should be administered.
Meanwhile, deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd said he believed the child vaccination rollout would lead to a decrease of virus cases in schools.
“We have enough of the Pfizer vaccine for every five to 11-year-old to receive their first dose by the end of this month,” he told the ABC, saying the number of vaccination sites nationwide increasing from 6,000 to 8,000,” Kidd said.
But while authorities hold high hopes for the children’s vaccination program, a paper published on the BMJ has said that it “may not be necessary to vaccinate all children” as COVID-19 is a “generally mild disease” in kids with less than two percent of symptomatic children requiring hospital admission.
The journal review, published in November 2021, found that the severity of COVID-19 in children might have been overestimated as the rate of intensive care admission of hospitalised children, which ranges between 2 percent and 13 percent, includes children who are “hospitalised with COVID-19 and not because of COVID-19.”
“The case for vaccinating all healthy children against COVID-19 is more difficult than for adults as the balance of risks and benefits is more nuanced,” the review said.
“Even though transmission in schools can contribute to the circulation of SARS-CoV-2, the rate of transmission in educational settings is low, and index cases are often adults.”
The risk of long COVID-19 in children might have also been overestimated, the authors noted, pointing to the lack of data to determine the risk of long COVID-19 in children accurately.
It said most studies on this topic have “substantial limitations” such as potential selection bias, a lack of a clear case definition and the absence of a control group without infection.
The paper also listed a number of potential risks of vaccinating children, including the risk of adverse effects, the lack of long-term safety data, the currently limited global COVID-19 supply and the high cost-benefit ratio of COVID-19 vaccination in children.
“Although the majority of adverse vaccine effects occur early after vaccination, any unforeseen adverse effects could undermine vaccine confidence and reduce vaccination rates against other diseases,” it said.
“Another consideration is that, once SARS-CoV becomes endemic, primary SARS-CoV-2 infection in early childhood, when COVID-19 is mild, with subsequent boosting from ongoing exposure at older ages, may bring about population immunity… more effectively than mass immunisation.”