Hong Kong joins a host of places in approving shots for children as young as 12

Jair Flores, 12, receives a first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination clinic at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA in the United States on May 14, 2021.
Jair Flores, 12, receives a first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination clinic at the Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA in the United States on May 14, 2021.PHOTO: AFP
Romania has started offering the vaccine to adolescents aged 12 to 15 since June 1.
Romania has started offering the vaccine to adolescents aged 12 to 15 since June 1.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Hong Kong on Thursday (June 3) approved the Covid-19 vaccine for children as young as 12 years old, joining a host of places that have widened their vaccination drive in the battle against the coronavirus.

Those aged 12 to 15 will be able to get Germany’s Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

In April, the city extended vaccination to those aged 16 and older. Those under 18 need parental consent to be vaccinated.

Residents have to be older than 18 to receive China’s Sinovac vaccine.

Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Thursday that the benefits of reducing the age for vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine outweighed the risks. 

“It can not only protect young people from the new coronavirus infection, (but) it also helps them to return to normal campus and daily life as soon as possible,” she said.

Japan has also approved the vaccine for the age group but the youngsters will not be getting their shots immediately as the country is still in the process of vaccinating healthcare workers and the elderly. 

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration said in May that it will allow Pfizer to be used for the age group.

Health regulatory authorities have approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use on an emergency basis for 12- to 15-year-olds after data showed that it is safe and has high efficacy for this age group.

Canada was the first in the world to allow children aged 12 to 15 to be vaccinated early last month, after initially authorising it for use in individuals 16 years and older. The United States made a similar move days later.

In the US, about three million of the nearly 17 million in the 12 to 15 age group had their first dose as at Wednesday and some 111,000 had their second doses, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Mr David Gray, 48, told The Straits Times that he and his 15-year-old daughter had discussed getting the vaccine. 

“I signed her up the moment the vaccine was approved for younger children. She was the first among her friends to get inoculated,” said the accountant from Rockville, Maryland.

Across the Atlantic, many European nations have fired the starting gun after the European Medicines Agency approved the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12 to 15.

Romania has started offering the shots since Tuesday. 

Alexandra Maiorescu, 12, was among the first to get her jab in the capital Bucharest. She told the Associated Press that the jab did not “hurt as much as I expected but I was very afraid”.

Her father, Mr Mihai Maiorescu, was relieved about the vaccination.

“My daughter (has) had pneumonia, and we knew that if she gets (Covid-19) she might not heal easily,” he told the news agency.

In Latvia, shots were offered to the age group from Wednesday. Only those aged 12 and 13 will need parents’ or guardians’ consent. At least one of the adults will have to be present during the vaccination.

Germany and Poland will start offering the jabs from Monday, while France will start from June 15. 

In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel have been at the forefront in terms of vaccinating their populations. 

Since mid-last month, thousands of children aged 12 to 15 in the UAE have received their shots. 

Israel will also expand its vaccine roll-out to the age group from next week, even though it has found a small number of heart inflammation cases in young men who have received the Pfizer vaccine. Pfizer said no causal link to its vaccine had been established.

Shira Toch, 14, from Tel Aviv told ST that while she does not have any concerns about the vaccine, she felt there are not a lot of reasons to get vaccinated as Israel has lifted almost all its Covid-19 restrictions. 

Her father, academician Eran Toch, said: “We will let her decide, but we will recommend that she takes it.”

But the move to vaccinate children did not sit well with some experts who are concerned that it will come at the expense of poorer countries, who have barely begun to vaccinate their front liners and vulnerable groups.

“There are many unvaccinated people in the world, while in wealthier countries, we are looking to vaccinate children. The inequity feels completely wrong morally. We have lost the line of sight as to what we are trying to do, that is to stop the pandemic everywhere,” said Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and leader of the clinical trials for the AstraZeneca jab.