Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Jun 22 2021
A Moral Conundrum: Should Countries Vaccinate Children or Share Doses with Vulnerable

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

It’s been just over a month since children as young as 12 years old were approved in the United States to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 7 million U.S. teens and preteens (age 12-17) have received at least one dose of the vaccine so far.

And while the results have been largely positive, there are some wondering if it makes sense to utilise doses of the vaccine on children, who are less adversely affected by the virus than adults, when they could be sent to vulnerable and poorer countries struggling to vaccinate their populations.

According to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford, high or upper-middle countries account for 86 percent of shots administered worldwide, while in low-income countries, only .9 percent of people have received their first dose.

“It’s a moral and policy conundrum,” said Palladium’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Farley Cleghorn, when interviewed on Sky News on 21 June. “There’s a case to be made in how to reduce morbidity and mortality in the rest of the world and the only way to do that is to get vaccines to vulnerable adults.”

Less wealthy countries are relying on COVAX, the vaccine-sharing arrangement with the goal of providing two billion doses by the end of 2021. But hampered by supply chain and distribution struggles, many countries relying on supplies from COVAX are running out of doses to sustain their vaccination programs and are falling behind.

“In order to get to herd immunity, you need to cut off the source of the infection by vaccinating adults, but in order to get past the profound impacts on schools, we need to vaccinate children. These are two different paths to get to the same objective of protecting the world from COVID-19,” Cleghorn adds.

As Cleghorn notes, advancements in vaccination rates means that the U.S. is on the path to reaching herd immunity, but that immunity extends to the whole population, including children. Though children have been less profoundly physically affected by the virus, they’ve been affected by school closures and are at great risk for negative sociological impacts.

Recent studies have shown that disruptions to daily life from the pandemic, from isolation to financial changes, and food insecurity, have exacerbated depression and anxiety among children.

“Around the world, children in the 12+ age group should be vaccinated,” asserts Cleghorn. “But younger than that, is a different conversation, and should be explored with as much data as we can, which I think we’ll have in the next couple months here in the U.S.”

There’s no easy answer, and, as the U.S. prepares to send out the promised 55 million doses around the world by the end of June, Cleghorn notes that it’s unclear whether sending an additional 40 million doses (the number of children in the U.S.) to vulnerable populations instead of vaccinating U.S. children, will truly make a difference in the global fight against COVID-19.

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