German children aged 12 -16 can have Covid Pfizer vaccine in June

Decision by the government – in anticipation of European regulatory approval – prompts vigorous debate

German children from the age of 12 will be eligible for a Covid-19 inoculation from next month, the government has said, in anticipation of formal approval being given by the European regulator for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which is currently available to those 16 and over.

Angela Merkel said on Thursday night, after a lengthy “vaccine summit” with the leaders of the 16 Länder that every German citizen will have been offered a vaccine by 21 September and “that now includes the 12- to 16-year-olds”, who can “endeavour to get a vaccine appointment from 7 June, either in a doctor’s practice or at a vaccine centre”.

The health minister, Jens Spahn, has recommended that the vaccine should be given only after close consultation between parents, their children and GPs. Merkel stressed that the reopening of schools for normal operationin the autumn term was not dependent on whether children had been vaccinated.

However, with Germany’s vaccine commission, Stiko, believed to be far from decided as to whether it will give its approval, regardless of how EMA rules, and the question looming as to whether there are sufficient vaccine supplies, a rigorous debate is in full swing.

The president of Stiko, Thomas Mertens, said it would be at least two weeks before his commission announces its position, although it is widely expected that it will not issue a general recommendation, but rather advise on vaccinations for particularly vulnerable children, including asthma sufferers.

The commission has voiced its concerns that not enough data has yet been gathered and the test group has been too small. Mertens has recommended if vaccination of children in Germany does go ahead, it should take place only in doctor’s practices, where an individual consultation can take place, rather than in schools or vaccine centres as has been proposed.

Pfizer/BioNTech is the only vaccine to be in question as suitable for children in Germany after the results of an approval study in which a thousand children were vaccinated, a further thousand receiving a placebo. It offered them 100% protection and was tolerated well.

The vaccine was authorised for use on 10 May in the US on children from aged 12

and has already been given to thousands of children in Israel.

The Association of German GPs has expressed concerns that the vaccination debate is in danger of superseding the issue of granting more freedom to children as Germany’s virus incidence rate continues to fall.

Ulrich Weigeldt, the head of the organisation, told the Rheinische Post: “In order to give children more freedoms, there are certainly more possibilities than an immediate vaccine … Whether and against what children are vaccinated can only be decided on based on medical and scientific viewpoints, not political ones.”

The general secretary of the Association of German Intensive Care Doctors, Florian Hoffmann, said that on the grounds that children with coronavirus are often asymptomatic, or suffer only mild symptoms, coupled with the lack of vaccine supplies, it was inadvisable to inoculate them.

“Adults should continue to have the highest priority because they have a much higher risk of getting a serious course of the virus which could see them end up in intensive care.”

Heinz-Peter Meidinger, of the Association of Teachers, said he believed that few parents were likely to get their children vaccinated without an official recommendation from Stiko but Karl Lauterbach, health expert for the Social Democrats, criticised the fact that parents were being shouldered with the responsibility as to whether their children should be vaccinated.

“If the Stiko is not prepared to stipulate where it stands, it leaves parents, children and doctors on their own in making this decision … they must at least send a signal,” he said.

In a debate that it has been noted has been heavily dominated by men, the head of the German Ethics Council, Alena Buyx, has stood out for clearly defining her position as a doctor and a parent.

“Based both on the data and experience, I would vaccinate my children immediately,” she told Die Zeit. “Long-term side-effects, from all that we know, are extremely improbable. If there were serious side-effects, they would have come to light in the study phases.”

During Thursday’s vaccine summit, Merkel said children between the ages of zero and 12 would also be eligible for inoculation, but “not until towards the end of this year or the beginning of next”.

Pfizer/BioNTech said last month it was in the process of testing the vaccine on babies and children between six months and 11 years.

Contributor

Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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