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Australia The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for kids aged 12-15. Here's what happens next

23:27  24 july  2021
23:27  24 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Australia's medicines regulator has approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for young teenagers, but experts say it'll be some time yet before most kids are included in the wider vaccine rollout.

Now that the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has decided the vaccine is safe for 12 to 15-year-olds, it's up to another group, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), to decide how and when younger people should get the vaccine.

So when will most children get the vaccine, how effective is it, and does this approval mean adults have to wait?

Here are some of your common questions answered.

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When will children get the Pfizer vaccine?

Most kids probably won't get access to the vaccine for several months.

ATAGI, the expert panel that advises the federal government on vaccine strategy, is looking at international data and meeting with global experts to decide where exactly young teenagers should fit into the rollout.

Once ATAGI gives its advice, it's up to the federal government to set things in motion.

"I don't expect significant delays here, but this is an important decision and we'll need to consider," paediatric infectious diseases physician and ATAGI member Chris Blyth told a Senate committee on Friday.

Immunocompromised children and kids with underlying medical conditions are likely to get added to priority group 1B, which will give them immediate access to the Pfizer vaccine.

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But some experts say it's not necessary to prioritise other young people over adults yet.

"Even with Delta circulating in Australia, our priority should still be initially to protect vulnerable and at-risk adults that are in the highest-risk groups," paediatrician Margie Danchin said.

"And although we're making good progress there, we've still got a long way to go."

ATAGI's full advice is expected to be published next week.

Pfizer's vaccine was already approved for children aged 16 and over, and AstraZeneca's, while it's not the preferred vaccine for people under 60, was approved for 18-year-olds and over.

What pre-existing conditions would 12 to 15-year-olds have to be prioritised over older people?

This is one of the things ATAGI is looking at.

Children at the top of the priority list will be those most at risk of severe disease if they contract COVID-19.

Paediatrician Phil Britton said deciding which children should get prioritised meant looking at circumstances where the risk to the child remaining unvaccinated outweighed the benefit of making it available to other community members.

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Young teenagers with compromised immune systems, chronic health problems or those who have had organ transplants are likely to be first to get offered the vaccine.

Dr Danchin said the health conditions that put kids at risk of developing severe diseases were similar to those that put adults at risk too.

"Interestingly, the UK rollout actually very specifically focussed on children with certain conditions such as Down's syndrome, neurodisability and other disabilities and other neurological disorders," Dr Danchin said.

"But I think Australia will be carefully considering a lot of other medical conditions, such as diabetes, chronic cardiac disease, and those usual conditions that we are concerned about that put people at high risk."

Is the Pfizer vaccine safe for kids, and is it effective against COVID?

The TGA's decision to approve the vaccine wasn't made lightly.

It came after medical trials focussing on safety and efficacy, as well as looking at extensive data from overseas, where Pfizer's vaccine has already been approved for use in children over 12 in many countries like the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe.

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Trials showed the vaccine was 100 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections in 12 to 15-year-olds, with only mild side effects, the TGA said.

The most common side effects, like fatigue, headache, chills and muscle pain, were more common after the second dose.

Like any vaccine or medical treatment there were some risks, but they're extremely rare.

Some rare cases of heart inflammation have been reported in young men getting the Pfizer jab, but most cases were mild and recovered within days, the TGA said.

"I think we can be really reassured that the TGA has done its job and ensured that the vaccine is safe for our 12 to 15-year-olds," said infectious diseases physician Tony Cunningham, from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research.

How does COVID-19 and the Delta variant affect kids?

The majority of children who get infected will only experience mild illness, or even no symptoms at all.

But there is a small number of children who have developed serious illness, long COVID or even died from the disease.

Most kids who suffered adverse effects from COVID-19 had underlying medical conditions, experts said.

Delta has changed the game by being at least twice as infectious as the variant we were dealing with last year and overseas, the variant is driving up hospitalisation rates among young people, Professor Cunningham said.

"Delta is different, and it's really affecting young people," he said.

Dr Britton said Australia should consider how to use the vaccination program to mitigate other effects of the pandemic on children, such as disruptions to their education and the impact on their carers.

The good news is that trials show both vaccines available in Australia are effective against Delta.

"But the problem is that neither Pfizer nor AstraZeneca are as effective as they have been against the other strains with a single dose," Professor Cunningham said.

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"So it really is important that everybody gets the message to be fully immunised as quickly as possible and not just simply to stick with the first dose."

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