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Pfizer vaccine available for some under-5s – Expert Reaction

Children aged between six months and four years can now access a paediatric version of the Pfizer vaccine if they are at higher risk of severe Covid-19.

The Ministry of Health said the three-dose paediatric vaccine would be available starting today for children who are severely immunocompromised or who have complex health conditions that raise the risk of severe disease.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the announcement.

Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, epidemiologist, University of Otago, Wellington, comments:

“It’s welcome news that some New Zealand under-5’s will have access to COVID-19 vaccines. This decision will mean better protection for children with underlying conditions, who are known to be at risk of more severe infection.

“It’s worth questioning, however, why this choice isn’t being offered to all families, as it is in the US. Data from the WellKiwis cohort, an ongoing study of respiratory infections in NZ families, show that during the Omicron waves of 2022, 1 to 4 year-olds were the highest infected age group of all: between February and October 2022, three in four children (75.4%) aged 1-4 years tested positive for COVID-19.

“This very high infection rate suggests that parents of young children, in particular those that attend daycare and kindergarten, may be disappointed not to have this opportunity to protect their children.

“Serious outcomes from COVID-19 are fortunately rare in this age group, but because the disease spreads so easily in young children the impacts can be high. US figures show that COVID-19 infection is the 7th-highest cause of death in the 1-4 year age group, ahead of many other conditions that children are vaccinated against as a matter of routine. This finding raises the question of whether New Zealand is applying a consistent approach to risk assessment of infectious diseases in this age group.”

No conflicts of interest declared.