The impending authorization of Pfizer’s anti-Covid vaccine for adolescents in the United States could help revive a slowing vaccination campaign, but it is also sparking an ethical debate as other countries are still waiting to have enough doses to vaccinate their populations most at risk.
In early April, the Pfizer / BioNTech alliance filed an emergency extension request for its vaccine for 12-15 year olds in the United States. On Monday, U.S. media reported that the U.S. Medicines Agency (FDA) is expected to effectively clear it for this age group by early next week.
“We assure the public that we are working to consider this request as quickly and as transparently as possible,” the FDA said, declining to comment further.
The results of trials on 2,260 adolescents in the United States demonstrated “robust antibody responses” after the injections and the vaccine was “well tolerated”, Pfizer / BioNTech announced at the end of March.
This vaccine is currently authorized for people 16 years of age and over. Its extension, also under study by the European Medicines Agency, would open up vaccination to millions of additional people.
“There are approximately 17 million children between the ages of 12 and 15” in the United States, former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said on CBS Sunday. “I think about 5 to 7 million could be vaccinated during the summer,” he said.
A welcome contribution, at a time when the rate of injections carried out each day is slowing down in the country, after a peak in early April.
About 56% of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine (over 145 million people), but the government today faces challenges in accessing some of the remaining population, and skepticism about other.
– “Short-term vision” –
Faced with the prospect of starting to vaccinate adolescents now, however, many experts are very critical.
“Vaccinating American children before 70 and 80 year olds globally is not a good thing,” tweeted Vinay Prasad, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of California at San Francisco.
“In an ideal world, where supplies are unlimited, yes, I would say everyone should be vaccinated,” Dr Priya Sampathkumar of the Mayo Clinic told AFP.
“But vaccinating more people in the United States will not help us if the variants in India or South Asia are out of control, and are reaching us,” she said. “So it is to have a short-termist vision (…) not to send vaccines where we need them most.”
“The vast majority of health workers in the world have (…) no access to vaccines,” added AFP Craig Spencer, emergency physician and teacher at Columbia University. The virus “is raging around the world and we are discussing how we are going to vaccinate a very low risk population.”
The Biden government has promised to provide other countries with 60 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine against the Covid-19, not yet authorized in the United States, but for many experts this is not enough.
– Reopen schools –
Children are less exposed to severe cases of the disease. American health authorities recorded at the end of April 277 deaths from Covid-19 among the 0-17 year olds since the start of the pandemic (out of more than 550,000 deaths in total).
Vaccinating them thus allows above all to protect the adults around them.
While young children, especially those under the age of 10, are less likely to transmit the virus, adolescents may not be.
Their immunization will therefore help to curb the epidemic, and tend towards the percentage of the vaccinated population necessary to approach collective immunity.
In addition, vaccinating them should help facilitate the reopening of schools, a stated priority of President Joe Biden.
About 30% of students under 18 still have lessons in a “hybrid” way (sometimes in person, sometimes at a distance), according to the Burbio company which studies the data by districts.
Authorization from the Medicines Agency “is an incredible step forward to protect our children,” Lee Savio Beers, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told AFP. “While the vaccine is not essential for going back to school in person, it is an important tool (…) and it should make families and staff more comfortable,” a- she estimated.
Other companies are also conducting clinical trials of their own anti-Covid vaccine in adolescents, including Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax.