Focus/Spotlight

Covid-19 vaccination programme: No decision on university and school students

  • International students to be vaccinated with DGHS approval

  • No decision yet to vaccinate children above 12 years

By Sarah Hannan

 

While the national vaccination rollout for Covid-19 is slowly progressing in Sri Lanka, many other countries have been rolling out their vaccine drives quite rapidly. With the support of the medical regulatory authorities in the Americas, Europe (Non-EU), European Union (EU), Middle East, and Asia-Pacific, Covid-19 vaccination programmes have been commenced for children above the age of 12.

In Sri Lanka, however, we are still at the stage where the rest of the country is yet to receive its first dose of the vaccine for the priority groups – those above the ages of 60 years and pregnant mothers.

With schools and universities now being closed for over seven weeks as a result of the third wave of Covid-19 and the high virulence of the new Covid-19 variants, the next question is whether schoolchildren and university students could also be inoculated in the upcoming weeks or before schools and universities reopen.

The Sunday Morning contacted State Minister of Primary Healthcare, Epidemics, and Covid Disease Control Dr. Sudharshini Fernandopulle to ask whether Sri Lanka has taken a decision on vaccinating children above 12 years of age.

“So far, it is the Pfizer vaccine that is used to vaccinate children above the age of 12 in other countries, and Sri Lanka only received the Pfizer vaccine last week, after the National Medicines Regulatory Authority (NMRA) approved its use. We still have not made a decision on vaccinating children or young adults at present. Our priority at present is to vaccinate persons above the age of 60, pregnant mothers, and those with vulnerabilities. We are yet to complete this priority group. After completing the vaccination programme for this group, we will look at vaccinating children and university students in due course,” she said.

A majority of international universities have informed undergraduates enrolling for the Fall semester commencing from August to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Considering the requirement that could arise, Deputy Director General of Health Services Dr. Hemantha Herath stated: “We are aware that there is a requirement for these students to be inoculated against Covid-19 at the time of admission. We are looking at allocating sufficient vaccines for these students from the batches of vaccines that Sri Lanka is bringing down at present.”

When asked about the protocol of international students requiring to be vaccinated, Dr. Fernandopulle noted: “Those who require to be vaccinated for special purposes such as fulfilling the requirement to gain entry to overseas universities, have to make a request to the Director General of Health Services and they can obtain the full dose of vaccinations prior to leaving the country. University students that were leaving for universities in China were inoculated with the Sinopharm vaccine under such provisions recently.”

Meanwhile, Ministry of Education Secretary Prof. Kapila Perera told The Sunday Morning that the Ministry has sent a request to the Ministry of Health to consider vaccinating schoolchildren, university students, and teachers before the reopening of schools and universities.

“The Ministry of Health is yet to respond with regard to this matter,” he added.

 


Countries that commenced/plan on vaccinating children 

 

Americas

  • The US began inoculating young adolescents in mid-May after its Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved Pfizer’s shot for those aged 12-15
  • Chile on 31 May approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for 12-16-year-olds
  • Canada, in early May, approved the use of Pfizer’s vaccine for children aged 12-15

Europe (non-EU)

  • Pfizer said in mid-May that it was seeking British approval to use its vaccine for 12-15-year-olds, and on 4 June, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the UK had extended the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine use for ages 12-15. MHRA CEO Dr. June Raine stated: “It will now be for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to advise on whether this age group will be vaccinated as part of the deployment programme”
  • Norway stated that it may consider the Pfizer vaccine for children who have a high risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19
  • Switzerland’s health watchdog said in early May that Pfizer had sought approval for its shot for children aged 12-15

EU countries

  • Italy on 31 May approved extending the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 12-15-year-olds
  • Germany plans to offer a first shot to children aged 12-16 from 7 June, while Poland would offer shots to those aged 12-15, the same day
  • France could begin inoculating teens aged 16-18 by June, with 12-15-year-olds receiving shots at the start of the school year
  • Lithuania’s Prime Minister said the country could start vaccinating children from age 12 in June
  • Estonia’s Head of the Government’s Covid-19 Council has revealed they could start vaccinating teenagers by Autumn
  • Romania’s Prime Minister said children from age 12 could start receiving shots from 1 June
  • Austria aims to have over 340,000 children aged 12-15 vaccinated by the end of August
  • Hungary started vaccinating 16-18-year-olds in mid-May

Middle East

  • Israel expanded its vaccination drive to 16-18-year-olds in January, and is set to rule on approving shots for those aged 12-15
  • Dubai said on 1 June that it had started offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 12-15-year-olds, after the UAE health authorities approved the shot for emergency use for the same age group in mid-May

Asia-Pacific

  • Singapore opened up its vaccination programme to adolescents aged 12-18 from 1 June
  • Japan on 28 May approved the use of Pfizer’s vaccine for those aged 12 and above
  • The Philippines on 26 May decided to allow Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12-15

 


Vaccines approved/pending approval for adolescents and teens

 

Pfizer-BioNTech

In the US, the Pfizer vaccine was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in children between the ages of 12 and 15 in mid-May. The company is currently studying the possibility of vaccinating children between the ages of six and 11. Also, three age groups have been tested in several countries for vaccination in children aged five to 11 years, two to five years, and six months to two years. Canada has also approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children between the ages of 12 and 15. Accordingly, the vaccination of children of that age group started in mid-May.

Pfizer has, meanwhile, informed that it plans to apply to the FDA in September for emergency authorisation of the vaccine for children aged two to 11.

 

Oxford-AstraZeneca

Better known as the “Covishield” vaccine in Sri Lanka, this vaccine is approved to be used for people 18 years and above. Studies are currently underway on whether the vaccine could be administered to healthy children aged six to 17.

 

Moderna

Clinical trials for children aged 12-17 for the Moderna vaccine too had been completed in mid-May and the US FDA had already approved vaccinating children 12 years and older. The manufacturer has recommended administering only one dose of the vaccine for this age group once the vaccine is approved by the regulators for use. The manufacturer is currently conducting the second phase of the clinical trials for children aged six months to 11 years.

 

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen

Clinical trials are being carried out on the effectiveness of administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for children aged 12-17. The manufacturer has informed that the results of these trials would be released shortly.

 

Sinovac

China’s National Health Commission approved the administration of the Sinovac vaccine for children aged three to 17 on 2 June, after successfully completing a study they had conducted on the safety of administering the vaccine to the age group. The Chinese Government is yet to announce when they would commence administering the vaccine to children.

 

Sinopharm

Following the approval of Sinovac to be administered to children aged three to 17, Sinopharm too has sought approval from the National Health Commission in China. It was revealed that Sinopharm had already published a study indicating the safety of vaccinating children aged three to 17, where the National Health Commission of China too was involved.

Sputnik V

Clinical trials are to commence in June on the possibilities of administering the Sputnik V vaccine manufactured in Russia to adolescents and teens.


 

Vaccine brand name Eligible age group Dosage 
Pfizer-BioNTech People 12 years and older Two shots given three weeks (21 days) apart
Oxford AstraZeneca People 16 years and older Two shots given 8-12 weeks (56-84 days) apart
Moderna People 12 years and older Two shots given four weeks (28 days) apart
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen People 18 years and older One shot
Sinovac People 18 years and older Two shots given 2-4 weeks (14-28 days) apart
Sinopharm People 18 years and older Two shots given 3-4 weeks (21-28 days) apart
Sputnik V People 18 years and older Two shots given three weeks (21 days) apart

 

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