JEDDAH: Health authorities in Saudi Arabia began administering the COVID-19 vaccine to children between the ages of 5 and 11 on Tuesday.
The Saudi Food and Drug Authority approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for this age group last month, after the manufacturer satisfied the regulatory requirements by providing data showing it is safe for children.
Dr. Sameera Al-Jehani, a pediatric infectious diseases consultant, told Arab News: “The COVID-19 vaccination regimen, consisting of two 10-microgram doses of BNT162b2 (the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) administered 21 days apart, was found to be safe, immunogenic and efficacious in children 5 to 11 years of age.”
The 10 microgram dose of the vaccine is lower than the 30 microgram dose given to older children and adults.
With COVID-19 cases once again spiking globally, and concerns about the rapid spread of the new omicron variant, a number of countries have begun to prioritize the vaccination of younger children. Several nations have approved the emergency use of the vaccine for the 5-11 age group, including France, the US, the UAE, Oman, Thailand, Germany, Spain and Canada.
The US Food and Drug Administration said on Oct. 29 that vaccine safety and effectiveness had been studied in a group of almost 3,100 children, and the immune response in those between the ages of 5 and 11 was comparable to that in people between the ages of 16 and 25. The vaccine was found to be 90.7 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 in children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US has recorded almost 2 million cases of COVID-19 among younger children. Although most children experience only mild symptoms they can pass on the virus to more vulnerable elderly relatives or people with underlying medical conditions.
“Without effective COVID-19 vaccines for this age group, children could potentially become ongoing reservoirs of infection and sources of newly emerging variants,” Al-Jehani said.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that initially the vaccination effort for younger children will prioritize those considered vulnerable and at high risk from the virus.
“Direct benefits of preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection in children include protection against severe disease, hospitalizations and severe or long-term complications, such as MIS-C,” the ministry said. MIS-C is multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, a condition in which parts of the body become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes or gastrointestinal organs.
“Indirect benefits include the likelihood of reduced transmission in the home and in school settings, including transmission affecting vulnerable persons, and safer in-person learning. COVID–19 associated school closures and quarantines also have social and economic costs for families and caregivers.
“Widespread vaccination across these age groups is therefore essential in ongoing efforts to curtail the pandemic," said Al-Jehani.
Saudi authorities reported 252 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The total number of infections since the start of the pandemic now stands at 551,462. Two additional coronavirus-related deaths raised the total number of fatalities to 8,867.
The Ministry of Health said that of the cases that remain active, 30 patients are in critical condition. It added that a further 109 patients have recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries in the Kingdom to 540,393.
More than 48.6 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered since the nation’s immunization campaign started, and more than 23 million people are fully vaccinated.
The ministry, which has set up 587 facilities across the Kingdom to administer the jabs, urged all who have not yet received a vaccine to get one. It also reiterated its calls for the public to adhere to precautionary measures and to register with the Sehhaty app to schedule vaccination.
Testing hubs and treatment centers set up throughout the country have helped millions of people since the pandemic began.
Taakad centers provide COVID-19 testing for those with no or mild symptoms or who believe they have come into contact with an infected person, while Tetamman clinics offer treatment and advice to those with symptoms such as fever, loss of taste and smell, and breathing difficulties. Appointments for both can be made through the ministry’s Sehhaty app.