The recommendation by Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn this week for all 12 to 17 year olds to be given a Covid-19 vaccination has triggered a hefty discussion between doctors, scientists and the government.
Some have accused Spahn of creating unnecessary pressure, while others have suggested the announcement is largely to allow large amounts of unused vaccine stock to be used up before they go out of date.
Spahn has been accused of jumping the gun with his announcement, seeing as the national advisory board on vaccines, Stiko, has yet to make a recommendation for this age group, except for individuals with pre-conditions. Stiko has said however, it will be ready with a general recommendation in the next 10 days.
The first children in some parts of the country are already back at school following the summer break, and amid a steady rise in incidents of Covid-19 and a considerable slowdown in the general population’s willingness to take up the vaccine – which has left supplies unused – concerns are growing that children will become more vulnerable to the risk of both catching and spreading the virus.
Currently, around 53% of adult Germans are fully vaccinated, whereas a quota of 75% is deemed necessary in order to control a fourth wave expected in the autumn.
Karl Lauterbach, the health expert for the Social Democrats and a leading voice on public health issues during the pandemic, has spoken out in favour of vaccinating children. He told the broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that most studies so far carried out relating to children and the vaccine have shown that the dangers of the Delta variant amongst children far outweigh any risks posed by the vaccine.
The German health authorities are closely following guidance given by CDC, the health authority in the US – where more than 6 million children have now been vaccinated and where immune response is seen to be very good – which is recommending the vaccination of children.
The UK – which has so far advised against except in cases of vulnerable children – is also being closely observed. However, Thomas Mertens, the head of Stiko, has warned against simplistic interpretations of events elsewhere, telling Der Spiegel:
In the US the recommendation is to vaccinate 12 to 17 year olds, but there the disease is proving to be more burdensome in this age group than in Germany, probably because more children there suffer from a metabolic syndrome – overweight, high blood pressure, lipid metabolism disorder, and high blood sugar levels.
In addition medical care for many children in the US is somewhat worse than it is here. So the situation is therefore not comparable. Every health commission must make decisions specific to their individual country.
But even as the debate dominates the headlines in Germany, many parents appear to be getting on with getting their children vaccinated without any pressure to do so. Around one in five 12 to 17 year olds, or around 900,000 individuals, have already had their first jab.