News Coronavirus Kids aged five to 11 on course for COVID-19 vaccinations from January 10

Kids aged five to 11 on course for COVID-19 vaccinations from January 10

vaccine Australia children COVID-19 vaccine
Vaccines for children aged five to 11 have been provisionally approved in Australia. Photo: Getty
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A coronavirus vaccine for children as young as five has been approved by Australia’s medical regulator, but the first jabs are not expected for at least another month.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) provisionally approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for kids aged five to 11 on Sunday, with Health Minister Greg Hunt saying the federal government expected the rollout to start on January 10.

The vaccine must now be approved by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), before the first of Australia’s estimated 2.3 million five- to 11-year-olds can receive their first dose.

“It is about keeping our kids safe, keeping our families safe, keeping all Australians safe,” Mr Hunt told reporters in Melbourne on Sunday.

Mr Hunt said the vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds was the same safe and effective vaccine used for other age cohorts – the only difference is those under 11 will receive one-third of the dose given to those aged 12 and above.

As with other age groups, the TGA has approved the two vaccine doses to be administered three weeks apart – though ATAGI may recommend a different time frame based on emerging evidence overseas.

Greg Hunt children vaccine
Health Minister Greg Hunt says TGA approval is the first of four crucial steps to allow children to be vaccinated in Australia. Photo: Getty

Mr Hunt said TGA approval was the first of four critical steps that focused on the safety and effectiveness of vaccinating children.

The second is the recommendation from ATAGI,  which the government expects in the coming weeks, and the third and fourth steps respectively are training on how to administer the Pfizer vaccine to children, and batch testing.

The TGA is also considering approving Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six to 11 years old.

Expected side effects

The Pfizer vaccine was tested in a trial of almost 2500 children aged five to 11, with deputy TGA secretary John Skerritt saying the immune response was identical to that seen in young adults.

Dr Skerritt said the trials identified “no safety problems” and suggested children could expect to experience similar side effects to the vaccines as adults – but over shorter durations.

He said some children who had received the jab had experienced sore arms, tiredness and headaches.

As for the recommended gap between each dose, Dr Skerritt said the TFGA had approved a three-week time frame but ATAGI could potentially provide different advice.

“One of the key things that ATAGI will look at is the gap between the two doses, because there’s been some emerging decisions in places like Canada that are suggesting that children should be done two months apart or eight weeks apart to get a stronger immune response,” Dr Skerritt said.

The big reason to vaccinate kids

The deputy TGA secretary was also keen to point out while children infected with COVID-19 become less sick than adults, vaccination was important to keep younger children in school and to protect them against Multisystem Inflammatory Condition.

“Now, while most kids do get a fairly mild infection, and only a limited number end up in ICU, which is great, there are bigger impacts,” Dr Skerritt said.

“Unfortunately, about one in 3000 of the kids who get COVID, actually end up with this funny immunological condition called Multisystem Inflammatory Condition.

“And those kids can end up being very sick for months. It’s not the same as long COVID, but it has some things in common.

“And it has a whole range of symptoms, where the kid is just not well, and that’s one of the things we’re protecting against by vaccinating children.”

Smaller dose, same protection

Testing has also shown that the smaller dose for five-to-11-year-olds will provide them with the same level of protection as that provided to over-11s by the larger dose.

But it should mean fewer side effects.

“They showed pretty clearly that the level of immunity was the same across all those different doses,” immunology expert Dr Kylie Quinn told the ABC on Sunday.

“But in the higher doses, there were slightly more cases of fever immediately after getting the vaccine.

“This is something we commonly see with vaccines in children – we can reduce the dose and achieve the same level of immunity – but we can avoid some of those side effects that we all get after getting vaccines.”

What happens next

Mr Hunt said the Pfizer vaccine for five to 11-year-olds will be distributed to vaccine providers in different packaging to the vaccine approved for people 12 and over, and will be clearly differentiated with orange-capped vials instead of grey or purple-capped vials.

Once the final ATAGI advice is received, further information on how to book a COVID-19 vaccination will be provided.

The first shipment of children’s doses are due to arrive in Australia by early January.

And if the government sticks to its start date of January 10, a large number of five- to 11-year-olds will receive their first dose before the start of the new school year in February.

As of Sunday, more than 87.9 per cent of Australians aged 16 or over have been fully vaccinated, while more than 92.8 per cent received at least one dose.