Australian drug regulators have approved the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15.
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization has advised the federal government that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 12 to 15.
The drug regulators have insisted that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination for children of that age range far outweigh the potential risks, including myocarditis, where the heart muscle is inflamed.
Australia’s federal health minister, Greg Hunt, says he hopes most injections will be given by the end of the year.
“We are in a position to ensure that all children and all families who seek their children to be vaccinated between the ages of 12 to 15 will be able to do so this year,” he said.
The Pfizer vaccine was already available to Australian aboriginal children ages 12 to 15 who have underlying medical conditions or live in remote areas.
France, Italy and Israel started offering the Pfizer vaccine to anyone age 12 and older in June. Japan did so in May, and the United States recently approved the drug’s use for that age group. The vaccines have been approved for children in India, but officials haven’t decided when inoculations can begin.
Paul Griffin, an associate professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Queensland, supports Australia’s decision to offer vaccines to younger children.
“We have seen excellent data supporting the use of these vaccines in this age group. Other countries have started doing it, and we know it is an important age group to be vaccinated for so many reasons. Children are now increasingly recognized as contributing to the spread of this virus,” he said.
The Australian Medical Association also supports the vaccination of children but has said that some older age groups are more of a priority.
Teachers in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, face mandatory coronavirus vaccinations as authorities plan a return to school for students starting in late October.
In Australia, 34.4% of the population is fully vaccinated. Four weeks ago it was 19.5%.
Fifteen million Australians remain in lockdown, including residents in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, as delta variant infections continue to surge. New South Wales authorities reported 1,218 additional COVID-19 cases Sunday, a new daily record.
Australia has detected about 50,000 coronavirus infections since the pandemic began, and 993 people have died, according to the health department.