Report: 'You can't get away from the fact that they are an unvaccinated cohort and the case numbers in children are so high'

One of the strongest features of the latest Covid surges is the number of children who are getting infected. According to Health Protection Surveillance Centre figures, 15% of Covid-19 cases in the fortnight to November 18th were in 5 to 12 year old children. As a result, there is massive pressure on schools, with teaching unions talking about "soaring transmission levels" and some schools talking about "horrendous" experiences because of infection and kncck-on staff shortages.

Vaccines for this group is something which is now very much under consideration after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for children. We spoke to Prof Christine Loscher, Professor of Immunology at DCU, about why we should vaccinate children.

"You can't get away from the fact that they are an unvaccinated cohort and the case numbers in children are so high", she says. "We're hearing lots of information coming from schools about out the number of outbreaks in every classroom, practically in every school in the country so there's no getting away from the fact that there's a high caseload in children at the moment.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today with Claire Byrne, Prof Christine Loscher and parenting columnist Jen Hogan answer listeners' questions about vaccines for 5 to 12 year olds

"We know that children can have a viral load that's enough to transmit, and we know that they can transmit it to others. Whether they do this to the same extent as an adult, I think is immaterial. They can transmit the virus. The other thing to remember is that children can often be very asymptomatic, much more so than adults. There may be a situation where, unbeknownst to a child, they're carrying a virus. We have research that shows that somebody who's asymptomatic still can transmit the virus, even though they're not symptomatic. They would still potentially have enough viral load to transmit.

"If you remember very early in the pandemic, we were all very wary of kids. They were labeled as vectors and people were very wary about them seeing older adults. But we will have much boosted older population going into Christmas this year so I definitely think that it's safer for older adults to be around other people in general."

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, RTÉ Education Correspondent Emma O'Kelly discusses the rollout of antigen testing in primary schools

Loscher believes we need to move fast now there's approval from the EMA. "I would like to see is if we can get a decision from National Immunisation Advisory Committee in the next few weeks. The FDA made theirs a number of weeks ago, and there's been 3 million vaccines already given in the US to five to 12 year olds. Israel started rolling out their vaccines to this age group this week and we always know they're ahead of the curve.

"What I would like to see is an accelerated process in order to make sure that we can have vaccines and that choice of vaccines for parents available for this cohort in the very near future. We're hearing that this might be something that will happen early next year, but I think it's something that we shouldn't delay. Some of the data that I heard recently on surveys with parents shows that approximately 60% said that they would take the vaccine for a child that age. I think it's very encouraging at an early stage that there would be such good uptake."

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From RTÉ One's Six One News, EMA approves use of Moderna's Covid vaccine in teenagers

With the Christmas break on the horizon, parents are naturally worried about what's going to happen in January when schools return. "I don't think that there's going to be a vaccine programme in place this side of Christmas, but I'd like to see plans put in place so that we could start vaccinating them in at the start of January and actually have some of them vaccinated going back into the classroom.

"How many times have the kids gone on holidays from school and not gone back again? We had this last year and they didn't go back for three months so parents are very worried and I think a lot of parents would like a vaccine for their child. Covid has had a massive impact on their life. If they get Covid and they're out of the school system for two weeks, their whole family goes into lockdown for at least five days."

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Ó RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta's Tús Áite, Covid 19 sna scoileanna le Deirdre O'Connor (Leas-Ardrúnaí Ginearálta Chumann Múinteoirí Éireann, an INTO) agus an bpainéal.

Loscher points out that the safety data to date around vaccines for this group is very strong. "We have to make sure that parents are very reassured the vaccine has been through a rigorous process. One of the safety concerns we had for 12 to 15 year olds was myocarditis or heart inflammation and they have not recorded one case in the US in 3 million five to 12 year old children.

"They're very optimistic that this is because the dose that's given to five to 12 year olds is only a third of the dose given to an older child so it may be that we're not even going to see those rare events in this age group. The safety data is looking really strong and the real world data coming from the US is also very, very strong on safety."


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ