German vaccine panel recommends Covid jabs for ‘at-risk’ young children

The German Standing Vaccines Commission (STIKO) has provisionally recommended that five to 11-year-old children with pre-existing conditions be given Covid shots - though healthy children should also be able to get vaccinated.

A 7-year-old girl recieves her Covid vaccination
A 7-year-old girl is given a plaster after recieving her Covid jabs in Leipzig, Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

In a draft resolution released on Thursday, STIKO said the Covid vaccine would be recommended both for younger children with vulnerabilities and those who have contact with at-risk individuals, such as a parent with health problems.

If five to 11-year-olds don’t fall into either of these groups, it will still be possible to get vaccinated against Covid on request and after a medical consultation with a doctor, the draft stated. The experts’ resolution is now due to be circulated among states and clinical societies before it is finalised, so changes are still possible at this stage. 

“Although the 7-day incidence in age group is very high – so it can be assumed that without vaccination a large proportion of five- to 11-year-olds will be infected in the medium term – most infections are asymptomatic,” STIKO wrote.

Children without preexisting conditions in this age group are currently at low risk for severe courses of Covid-19, hospitalisation and intensive care, they added. In addition, the risk of rare adverse events from vaccination cannot currently be assessed for this age group due to limited data.

Therefore, the STIKO “is not currently making a general vaccination recommendation” for children of that age without preexisting conditions.

The vaccine panel further wrote that it “again and emphatically points out” that parents, teachers, educators, and others involved in the care of children and adolescents “should urgently take advantage of the vaccination offer including booster vaccination for themselves”.

In order to make the vaccine suitable for young children, Pfizer/BioNTech has developed a lower-dosed version of its Covid vaccine that is supplied to doctors in orange vials. After it received approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) at the end of November, German states will receive their first batches of the modified vaccine on December 13th. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: When can children get the Covid jab in Germany?

Some states, such as Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia, have already announced plans to start carrying out vaccinations on children from the middle of next week. 

For children aged 5-11, two doses of the lower-dosed mRNA vaccine should be administered three to six weeks apart. In the past, when doctors vaccinated younger children, they usually reduced the dose of the vaccine that had been approved for over-12s themselves – this falls under so-called off-label use. 

The STIKO recommendation, on the other hand, refers only to the new vaccine specially dosed for children. 

Though doctors are able to carry out vaccinations without a recommendation in place, such resolutions are considered the medical standard and are an important guideline for many physicians. Since the start of the pandemic, the committee has repeatedly adjusted its vaccination recommendations to take into account the latest research and factors such as current infection rates or new variants.

Vaccination for children aged 12 years and older was initially recommended only for pre-existing conditions but was later change to encompass the entire age group. This, among other decisions, has put STIKO in the firing line as critics accused the expert panel of responding too hesitantly to the latest data. 

READ ALSO: Swiss parents take children to Austria and Germany for Covid shots

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”