In our Jewish community, we love and care for our children and grandchildren They are the future of our community. No one wants to put them at risk.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (Comirnaty) for children aged five to 11. Although many of you will be happy and keen to vaccinate your children, there will be parents with concerns and questions regarding the safety of vaccinating this age group and whether the risk/benefit ratio is favourable.
We, Jewish medical professionals who represent the Jewish medical community, and also with expertise in infectious diseases, want to reassure the Jewish community that the correct path is to vaccinate your children and grandchildren.
This decision of the TGA was based on expert advice from the Advisory Committee on Vaccines (ACV), which is an independent committee with expertise in scientific, medical and clinical fields. The ACV carefully considered data from several clinical trials conducted overseas. These showed that, in children, the immune response to the vaccine and safety profile were similar to those seen in older age groups.
We have confidence that the TGA’s decision was made after a thorough and careful assessment of the scientific evidence available.
As with older children and adults, the recommended schedule is two doses, at least three weeks apart. However, the amount administered will be one third (10 micrograms) of the usual dose (30 micrograms).
There are three good reasons to immunise young children:
- To protect them from COVID-19. Although children are less severely affected by COVID-19, they may still become unwell, sometimes seriously and they can also suffer long-term symptoms. There have been increasing numbers of children infected and hospitalised with COVID-19 in recent months. With the new, more infectious variant, Omicron, starting to spread in Australia, this is another reason to vaccinate our children.
- To protect their families and other close contacts, particularly the elderly, those with underlying medical problems and those who have not been immunised. We are a social community, mostly all living in a few adjacent suburbs, and for those religiously observant who regularly attend shule, they are interacting with other community members on a daily or at least weekly basis. Unvaccinated children are a conduit of transmission to these individuals and it doesn’t take much for the virus to then spread. Protecting our children will protect the whole community.
- To keep them at childcare, kinder and school. We have all experienced how closure of schools our children attend (both Jewish and other) have had a major impact on their physical and mental well-being. Home schooling has placed an enormous burden and stress on families. And the social toll on our children missing in-person education with their peers has been significant. We don’t want to go through this again.
What about parental concerns over the risks of vaccination?
The side effects of the Pfizer vaccine are similar to other vaccines. The most common side effects are pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, chills and muscle pain. These are all self-limiting and easily managed with analgesia. There were no serious side effects detected in the Pfizer vaccine trial of this age group. Very rare reports of self-limiting myocarditis or pericarditis (inflammation around the heart muscle) were seen in older teenagers and not in young children. Approximately five million children have already received the vaccine in other countries without a major adverse event. This is more than all the children in our country. Australia and other countries have very well developed monitoring systems in place to detect any serious adverse events after vaccines.
The benefits of vaccination overwhelming outweigh the potential complications.
We understand the first dose for children aged five to 11 will likely be available in January 2022 before the start of the school year.
It is important to take evidence and expert advice into account rather than opinions based on unproven theories on social media. Reliable advice can be found at: health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/approved-vaccines/safety-side-effects; health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/covid-19-vaccines/is-it-true
We strongly urge all of you in our Jewish community to immunise your children and grandchildren for their benefit, and that of the whole community.
Dr Jack Green is president of the Australasian Jewish Medical Federation (Victorian Branch). Associate Professor Caroline Marshall is an infectious diseases physician.