Youths in Finland could start receiving coronavirus vaccinations before the end of summer break pending approval by European regulators, according to Mika Rämet, the director of the Vaccine Research Centre at Tampere University.
Vaccine producers around the world are now testing their jabs on teens and children. Last week, pharma firm Pfizer applied to US regulators to lower the age limit for its coronavirus vaccine from the current 16 years old to 12.
Meanwhile, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also testing their respective coronavirus vaccines on children and youths. However, AstraZeneca has ceased trials on individuals under 18 years of age following investigations that revealed links between its vaccine and blood clots.
If the European Medicines Agency (EMA) lowers the age limit for Pfizer's jab to 12, it would mean that as many youths who are willing could be vaccinated by the time summer break is over, according to Rämet.
That would mean youngsters between the ages of 12 to 15 would be able to return to classrooms, he said.
"I think it's important that all primary, high school, vocational and college students return to in-person education settings immediately when the school year begins again this autumn. Pfizer's vaccine is very effective in young people, so there is no obstacle in vaccinating them," Rämet said.
However, he said that kids under the age of 12 will likely have to wait until next year to be vaccinated. One possibility, Rämet said, was that the coronavirus jab would become part of the national vaccination programme for young children.
Future boosters possible
Most of the coronavirus vaccines currently available are administered in two doses. Rämet said that the first dose provides good protection while the second strengthens it. As variants of the virus arrive, vaccines will be further developed, he explained.
"We will probably need a dose within six months or a year after the first doses. But at that stage, production capacities will already be so good that there won't be supply problems," Rämet said.
So far, coronavirus infections have generally only caused minor side-effects among children. When asked whether it was appropriate to give kids coronavirus vaccines, Rämet said the question was whether vaccines are safe for children.
"Children deserve medicines and vaccines that have been tested on children," he said, adding that Covid-19 has not been completely harmless to kids.
He pointed out that thousands of kids around the world who contracted Covid-19 suffered hyperinflammation triggered by the virus, a condition which can cause high fever, heart failure and in the worst case, even death. However, fatalities are very rare.
He said that from an immunological perspective, there were no differences between kids and adults. Immediate reactions to the vaccine are the same: jabs can cause temporary fever and pain at the injection site in both children and grownups.
The important thing is to determine the right dosage for children of various ages, but such research takes time as age groups undergo trials individually.
Rämet said he disagreed with the notion of vaccinating kids in order for adults to reach herd immunity.
"That must absolutely not be the driving force behind vaccinating children," he said.
"The best way to protect yourself against Covid-19 is to take the vaccine when it is offered. Covid-19 is not going anywhere for a long time, so it will pay off to get vaccinated," Rämet said.