The European Medicines Agency last month approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 for children aged 12 and over, and other brands are undergoing testing. Health Minister Adam Vojtěch has said the government plans to begin vaccinating that group by late summer – ahead of the next school year. But many Czech parents are reluctant to get the jab, even for themselves.
Testing has shown that children who received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination achieved antibody levels up to twice as high as adults, and greater stimulation of their immune systems. Both of which is good news, says Roman Chlíbek, head of the Czech Vaccinology Society. “The approach to having these younger children vaccinated may be a bit different than with adults, more individual. Vaccination is definitely important for chronically ill children or children with weak immunity. But it is also important for strengthening family immunity, when in contact with chronically ill or elderly members. It is always best for the maximum number of people in a family to be vaccinated.”
The main concern, Mr Chlíbek told Czech Radio, is that parents may prove reluctant to register their kids. Among people aged 35 to 50, which includes the majority of parents of children in the 12 to 15 age group, not even half have themselves registered to get vaccinated.
Among them is Marie, a 48-year-old mother of a 13-year-old boy:
“I will definitely not register him. I’m 100 percent certain. There would have to be something that would make us. I’m afraid for my children.”
In the EU study of several thousand children, no ill effects were reported. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has also been given approval for children aged 12-15 also in the United States, with testing done on a far larger sample, along with the Moderna jab. AstraZeneca is now trialling its vaccine, currently approved only for over-18s, in children as young as six.
Irena Koutná, head of a group of Czech scientists studying human immunity in connection with Covid-19, is among those who argues that since the long-term effects are unknown – and the vast majority of infected children do not suffer from severe illness – the vaccination of children should be decided on a case-by-case basis.
But a small minority of children can get seriously ill from a Covid complication called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which can leave them with longer-term mobility or mental health issues. As noted earlier, having children vaccinated also goes a long way to protecting others.
The Society of General Practitioners for Children is especially concerned that adults reluctant or unwilling to have themselves vaccinated will not register vulnerable children to get the jab. And so they have advocated that vaccinations for minors be the responsibility of paediatricians, who generally enjoy greater trust among families.
Meanwhile, fewer than 1.6 million people in the Czech Republic are fully vaccinated. That’s not even 10 percent of the population.