SINGAPORE - Singapore is watching studies overseas to see if Covid-19 vaccines for children in the zero-to-four age group will be necessary, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary.
"Currently, there are trials going on trying to decide what is the right dose and timing of the vaccine for children younger than five, but those haven't been completed yet," he said in an interview with The Straits Times on Monday (Dec 20).
"So then (it's) not right for us to roll out the vaccine for the younger children until those trials have been completed."
He added: "What we have to know is that it works for them, and it works to give them significant immunity... So we have to wait for the research to show us that is the correct conclusion, then we will know this is the right thing to do."
Other types of vaccines that very young children receive today have been proven to work very well and they benefit from the protection, he said.
Dr Janil also explained that vaccinations begin with adults before moving onto younger age groups.
"All vaccinations go through this cycle," he said, adding that research is first done in adults to show that it is safe before vaccinating millions of other adults and following up with them.
This is followed by more trials with younger adults and then for younger children.
"The difference in size between a 10-year-old and a four-year-old is really quite large. But also internally, the way their body handles the dose is also different. So we have to find out what is the right dose and what is the right timing," he said.
Dr Janil said that research is key in determining vaccine safety.
"Parents today, if you have a five-year-old or a six-year-old, you will remember taking your children to get the BCG, the MMR, the DTP - all of these vaccinations that they did basically in the first 18 months of life," he said.
BCG refers to Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, which protects against tuberculosis, MMR stands for measles, mumps and rubella, while DTP is diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, which are bacterial diseases.
Said Dr Janil: "Now, what we don't realise is that when we were growing up, we may have received those vaccines at the age of five or 12 in school, but basically over time research has shown that you can give it at a younger and younger age."
The same is true for the Covid-19 vaccine, he added. "We started off looking at it in adults, and over time, we know the safety, and so now we can do it for the younger children."
He noted that the age of five is not a "magic age" that makes children eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine. Rather, the age cut-off is based on studies that have been done to show that the vaccine is safe and effective.
"It is arbitrary, but it is the age for what the trials were done," he said.
"The trials that have been used in order to demonstrate the safety and apply for the licence use that age range of five to 11. And then now, we are taking that data, we're going to vaccinate five- to 11-year-old children."