Major vaccine move for children as Omicron fears grow

·5-min read

Children aged between five and 11 in Australia have been provisionally approved to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

It comes as fears grow over the Omicron coronavirus variant with concern the variant is spreading in the NSW community after a cluster of cases at a Western Sydney school.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Sunday The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has provisionally approved the Pfizer vaccine. 

The decision coincides with data emerging from South Africa showing young children have been heavily affected by Covid, feared to be a result of Omicron.

Virologist Sarah Palmer from The Westmead Institute’s Centre for Virus Research told the ABC her team is "very, very concerned" about the emergence of Omicron in Australia, fearing the virus is learning to combine the strengths of different variants.

A person wearing blue medical gloves drawing a vaccination from a vial.
TGA provisionally approves Pfizer Covid vaccine for five to 11-year-olds in Australia. Source: AP

Mr Hunt said the TGA’s provisional approval of the Pfizer vaccine for five to 11-year-olds was "based on a careful evaluation of available data to support its safety and efficacy among this age group".

"The vaccine dose approved by the TGA for children aged five to 11 is the same safe and effective vaccine used for other age cohorts, however is one-third the dose approved for those aged 12 and over."

"It is about keeping our kids safe, keeping our families safe, keeping all Australians safe," Mr Hunt told reporters on Sunday.

"In terms of the vaccination program, that continues to go from strength to strength."

Children to receive at least one dose before 2022 school year

The vaccine will be administered the same as it is in other age groups, with children aged five -11 years should be given in two doses at least three weeks apart

"The Pfizer vaccine for five to 11-year-olds will be distributed to vaccine providers in different packaging to the vaccine approved for people 12 and over, and will be clearly differentiated by being dispensed from orange-capped vials instead of grey or purple capped vials," Mr Hunt explained.

Mr Hunt said they will work closely with vaccine providers and states and territories to make sure all children have the opportunity to receive at least one dose before they return to school in 2022, with the first shipment of children's doses is due to arrive in Australia by early January 2022.

A boy wearing a light blue shirt and a white mask receiving a vaccination in his arm.
The TGA has approved a Pfizer vaccine for five to 11 year olds. Source: Getty

"The Government has an agreement in place with Pfizer to receive sufficient supply of the paediatric vaccine for the entire population of children aged five to 11 in Australia," Mr Hunt said.

The TGA is also currently evaluating an application from Moderna for its Covid-19 vaccine to be used in Australia for children aged six to 11 and the Government already has supply deals in place to make it available should it be approved by the TGA and recommended by ATAGI.

Borders tighten worldwide as cases increase

The UK government has tightened travel restrictions amid concerns about the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced all travellers arriving in England will need to take a Covid-19 test before they board their flight and mandatory masks in shops and on public transport have been reintroduced.

No further restrictions are on the cards just yet with Mr Johnson telling reporters Christmas 2021 would be "considerably better than the last."

“We’ve got the measures in place to fight Delta," he said on Tuesday.

"Which we think are appropriate, and then we’re bringing in some tougher measures to stop the rapid seeding of Omicron in this country to give us the time we need to get the boosters in and of course to find out more.”

Norway has responded to the outbreak by reintroducing some social distancing measures and encouraging people to work from home. Face masks have also been reintroduced.

88 per cent of adults in Norway, and 71 per cent of all Norwegians, are fully vaccinated.

From Friday, anyone arriving in Norway —whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated — must take a Covid test within 24 hours of arrival. 

Concerns over Christmas travel to SA

In Australia, the Christmas travel plans of thousands of Australians are up in the air with South Australia threatening to tighten its border over concerns about the Omicron strain.

Premier Steven Marshall told reporters on Saturday he hasn't ruled out closing the border to people from NSW, Victoria and the ACT, just days after the borders reopened.

"It may become necessary. I hope it doesn't," he said in a press conference on Saturday, before SA reported five new cases.

"We would only do that if we wanted to make sure that we still enjoy a Christmas here in SA. This is a balancing act."

Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier on Saturday recommended to the state's Covid-19 directions committee that borders be shut.

Instead, the committee agreed to require all arrivals from NSW, Victoria and the ACT be tested upon arrival.

There have been 15 cases of Omicron so far detected in Australia: 13 in NSW, one in the Northern Territory and one in the ACT.

with AAP.

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