Should Japan follow the US and vaccinate young children?

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United States approves Pfizer shot for 5-11s

Health authorities in the United States have authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children aged 5 to 11. That age group can now receive 10 microgram doses—one-third of the dosage given to adults. Previously, the vaccine was permitted only for people aged 12 or above. Pfizer wants Japan to follow suit and has submitted an application to Japan's health ministry.

Pfizer conducted clinical trials involving more than 2,200 children and reported a 90.7 percent efficacy at preventing symptoms. None developed serious illness.

Just 2.5 percent of the children developed a fever of over 38 degrees Celsius after the first dose, and 6.5 percent after the second. Slightly over one third of the subjects reported feeling fatigued.

Most children escape severe symptoms

Children infected with COVID-19 usually experience mild symptoms. Japan's health ministry data shows just 0.09 percent of children aged nine or younger became seriously ill with COVID-19 between June and August last year. During the same period, there were no serious cases in the 10-19 age bracket.

Health experts say children with underlying conditions could develop serious symptoms, but few cases have been reported so far in Japan.

The arguments for

Professor Nakayama Tetsuo, a pediatrician and virologist with Tokyo's Kitasato University, says that while the risk of serious illness might be low for very young children, vaccines can help prevent the cluster infections that are being seen in schools. "And when people are infected they will need to isolate, which can be a significant mental burden on children," he says.

The professor explains that vaccinating children could reduce the risk for family members who cannot receive a vaccine.

National differences

Professor Nakayama warns against blindly following the American model. He says policymakers in Japan should consider the difference in trends between the two countries as infections have been spreading among children in the US, but the number of infections among children are declining in Japan.

He says it makes sense to vaccinate children with underlying medical conditions. "But, we have to consider carefully whether all children should be vaccinated under current Japan's infection situation. It is not a good idea to rush into it."

This information is accurate as of November 12, 2021.