Germany's vaccine panel recommends Covid jab for everyone over 12
Germany's vaccine advisory board had held off on recommending the Covid jab to 12-17-year-olds. But they did a U-turn on Monday after analysing new research.
The Standing Commission on Vaccination (STIKO) announced that it is now recommending the Covid-19 vaccine for everyone aged 12 and above, reported Spiegel on Monday.
The advisory board to the German government said the U-turn had been made due to an evaluation of new scientific observations and data that showed young people face a high risk of getting Covid due to the more transmissible Delta variant.
Researchers came to the conclusion that "based on current knowledge, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risk of very rare vaccine side effects".
In June, STIKO, which advises the government on vaccination matters, officially recommended the vaccine for 12-17 year olds only if they had pre-existing conditions – such as diabetes or obesity – or if they lived with people at high risk from Covid.
Teenagers who didn't fall into those categories were able to get vaccinated in Germany if they consulted with their parents and doctors. But the cautious advice slowed the take-up among younger people.
According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 24.3 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have had at least one Covid jab, and 15.1 percent are fully vaccinated.
German politicians had been pushing STIKO to issue a blanket recommendation to all children over 12. Earlier in August health ministers decided to go against STIKO's guidance and offer the vaccine widely to everyone over 12.
STIKO had said there was insufficient data on possible vaccine side effects on younger age groups. Plus, since children and adolescents have a relatively low risk of getting seriously ill with Covid-19, the risk-benefit assessment of illness or vaccination is different than for adults.
However, new research has shed more light on the issues. STIKO also based their decision on mathematical modelling that showed children were at significantly higher risk of infection by the Delta variant.
"Based on new surveillance data, particularly from the US vaccination programme with nearly 10 million vaccinated children and adolescents, potential risks of vaccination for this age group can now be quantified and assessed more reliably," STIKO said.
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In very rare individual cases, heart muscle inflammation occurred after vaccination with an mRNA vaccine, particularly in young men, said STIKO.
In the majority of the rare cases, the patients were hospitalised but the issue was resolved. "Conversely, recent studies from abroad indicate that cardiac involvement does also occur with Covid-19 disease," STIKO's statement said.
"In addition, no signals of other serious adverse events have occurred after mRNA vaccination, particularly in children and adolescents."
STIKO said that long Covid was also considered in their new evaluation.
"It remains uncertain whether and how frequently long Covid occurs in children and adolescents," said STIKO.
STIKO recommends that vaccines for all young people should continue to include a consultation with a doctor. In its statement, STIKO opposed making vaccination a prerequisite for social participation among children and adolescents.
In May, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine by BioNTech/Pfizer for children aged 12 and over. Recently, the Moderna vaccine was also approved in Europe for the younger age group of 12 to 17.
Vaccinations for children and adolescents have been the subject of controversy for weeks in Germany, as this age group goes back to school.
Some experts had argued that children were completely exposed to the Delta variant due to being unvaccinated.
Health expert Karl Lauterbach welcomed the move from STIKO.
Several countries already vaccinate children and adolescents 12 and older, including the US and Israel. No Covid vaccine has yet been approved for those under 12.
But BioNTech/Pfizer is testing its vaccine in this age group. It is expected that approval will be sought from the US authorities before the end of this year. It's possible that a vaccine could then be available for very young children in early 2022.