Vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds approved as infections spike
Covid vaccines were approved for children between the ages of 5 and 11 for the first time after cases soared to 171,452 on Wednesday, with many infections reported among children and adolescents.
Wednesday's case count was a record and 71,879 higher than the day before.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety announced Wednesday that it authorized the use of Pfizer’s special vaccine for inoculating children aged between 5 and 11. Until now, only people 12 or older had been eligible for vaccination.
“This is the first vaccine that can prevent children from getting infected from Covid-19 or deteriorating into severe illness in a situation where the number of patients is increasing due to the Omicron spread,” Park In-sook, head of Biopharmaceuticals and Herbal Medicine Evaluation Department at the ministry, said.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said it will come up with the details of the inoculation plan for kids in March after assessing the virus situation and the shipment of supplies.
Medical experts say that as with adults, vaccines should first be given to children at higher risk of deteriorating into severe illness from Covid-19.
Choi Eun-hwa, a professor of pediatrics at Seoul National University Hospital, advised that children suffering from underlying diseases such as obesity, chronic lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes to be prioritized.
“If there's [an adult] at high-risk of infection among a child’s close contacts or cohabitants, they can also be considered to be inoculated first,” she added.
The Pfizer vaccine for kids is administered two times with a three-week interval. Immunocompromised children can get a booster four weeks after the second dose. The Pfizer vaccine for children contains one-third the dose of regular vaccines, includes different ingredients and uses a different preparation method.
The ministry said it authorized the use of the vaccine after comprehensively reviewing safety and efficacy test results from Pfizer’s clinical trials and getting opinions from a national advisory panel of experts.
Based on a clinical trials conducted on 3,109 children aged between 5 and 11 from the United States, Finland, Poland and Spain, the vaccine had 90.7 percent of efficacy in preventing Covid-19.
Pain or redness on the arm, fatigue, and muscle pain were the most commonly reported side effects.
The majority of the symptoms were mild or moderate. However, redness and swelling at the injection site were more common than in subjects between the ages of 16 to 25.
More side effects were reported after the second inoculation than the first, although they mostly disappeared within three days.
No deaths, myocarditis or serious adverse reactions were reported after inoculation, according to the clinical trial.
The ministry stressed that the vaccine received authorization or emergency approval in 62 countries, such as the U.S., European Union, Britain, Switzerland, Australia and Canada.
The government had been reviewing jabs for younger children since December.
The approval came after Korea has seen skyrocketing Covid-19 infections, particularly among children and adolescents under 19.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country added 171,452 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday — the highest yet — and raised its total to 2,329,182.
Kids under the age of 10 accounted for the highest infection rate per 100,000 people with 7,046, according to Wednesday’s KDCA data. That figure was followed by people between the ages of 10 to 19 with 6,879.
KDCA commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong pointed out that the surge in the number of infected children and adolescents under 19 in the third week of February — which was 21,973 — has doubled compared to the previous week's 10,981 child infections.
Jeong noted a high infection rate for children under the age of 11.
Authorities expressed concerns as infections are likely to spread after schools open next week, then to other family members in households, causing a spiral.
The number of patients in critical condition totaled 512 as of Tuesday midnight.
New virus fatalities jumped to 99, bringing the death toll to 7,607.
“One million cases, or half of the country’s compiled Covid-19 caseload came in the past 15 days,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a virus response meeting on Wednesday.
But, he noted, registered deaths during the same period have not risen at anywhere near the same rate.
They only account for 7.8 percent of all deaths, Kim said.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]