'Benefits outweigh the risks' for children aged 12-15, says NIAC in Covid vaccine decision

'Benefits outweigh the risks' for children aged 12-15, says NIAC in Covid vaccine decision

People arrived at Clonakilty GAA club for a Covid-19 walk-in vaccination over the Bank Holiday weekend. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

The National Immunisation Advisory Council (NIAC) is advising parents of children aged 12-15 set to receive an mRNA Covid vaccine to avail of the jab as the "benefits outweigh the risks". 

Chair of NIAC, Professor Karina Butler, said she "can understand why parents might be hesitant" but said the health risks posed by the virus for children in this age cohort are greater. 

Professor Butler said it is "rare that children would end up seriously ill in hospital" from the virus but warned that some may suffer from a reported rare inflammatory syndrome that can develop after a Covid-19 infection. 

"And we know that for some children we know that they can get long Covid and their health doesn't return for weeks to months," said Prof Butler. 

Prof Butler said NIAC's advice to the government to offer the vaccine to children aged 12 to 15 is to offer them protection from mild infections as well as the potentially severe infections that can happen on rare occasions. 

New research

Currently, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved two mRNA vaccines-Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna-or use in children aged 12-15. 

A recent study found that less than 2% of children experienced coronavirus symptoms longer than 8 weeks with illness from Covid-19 lasted no more than a week on average in people aged between five and 17, according to findings from a study led by researchers at King's College London.

The research published in the

Lancet Child and Adolescent Health

journal, involved scientists looking at daily health reports logged in the Zoe Covid Study app and focused on September 2020 through to February 2021.

Of the 1,734 children reported by parents or carers with a clear start and endpoint to their symptoms and a positive PCR test result, just one in 50 (1.8%) had symptoms lasting more than eight weeks.

Speaking about the research, senior author Emma Duncan, professor of clinical endocrinology at King's College London, said: "We know from other studies that many children who catch coronavirus don't show any symptoms at all – and it will be reassuring for families to know that those children who do fall ill with Covid-19 are unlikely to suffer prolonged effects.

However, our research confirms that a small number do have a long illness duration with Covid-19, though these children too usually recover with time.

"We hope our results will be useful for doctors, parents, and schools caring for these children – and, of course, affected children themselves."

Prof Butler said the data about Covid infection in children is "very reassuring" but that the medical field does not yet know everything about the effects of long Covid. 

Children with underlying health conditions are at greater risk from infection, Prof Butler said with NIAC recommending their parents to take the opportunity to vaccinate their children. 

As well as protecting other vulnerable children and adults in the household, Professor Butler said the vaccine will benefit children facing public health restrictions. 

"In addition to that we feel it will be a step towards giving children the wider benefit and normalising their growing up and their life experience as they have suffered greatly during the pandemic from all those extra curtailments on life," she said. 

Online portals opened

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly has said an online portal for registration will open "very quickly" for teenagers aged 12-15, and vaccination of this age cohort is expected to start as early as next week. 

Changes will be necessary in the portal to allow the parents of this cohort-numbering over 250,000-to give parental consent for the vaccine. 

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