The World Health Organization overhauled a webpage on the COVID-19 vaccines that had recommended against children getting vaccinated following online confusion about the difference between its guidance and that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On a previous version of its website, the WHO stated that “children should not be vaccinated at the moment. There is not yet enough evidence on the use of vaccines against COVID-19 in children to make recommendations for children to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
The recommendation, which had been online for months, drew notice earlier this week from U.S. vaccine skeptics. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who has previously said she personally doesn’t see a need to get vaccinated, tweeted, “The WHO says ‘children should not be vaccinated.’ ... Parents fight to protect your children.”
The WHO's guidance, which did not specify what was meant by "children," appeared to differ from that of the CDC, which recommends that those ages 12-17 receive the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. That decision has proven controversial with vaccine skeptics, who say that the health risks of the vaccine outweigh the benefits for young people. No vaccine has yet been authorized for children under the age of 12.
The WHO, though, updated the webpage soon after it gained attention Tuesday. Gone was the statement that “children should not be vaccinated for the moment.” Instead, as of Wednesday, the page said that "children and adolescents tend to have milder disease compared to adults, so unless they are part of a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers."
The page also added that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is “suitable for use” in those ages 12-17 and that at-risk adolescents could be offered it.
A spokesperson for the WHO said that the organization had not changed its recommendations.
The WHO may be reluctant to recommend that younger people receive that vaccine due to concern that vulnerable populations around the world receive it first, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
“The WHO has to look at the world situation, with an emphasis on channeling vaccines to those most severely affected, as we did in the U.S. when we began our vaccine program,” said Schaffner. “If you look at it from a public health prioritization point of view, the WHO has it right by starting with the most vulnerable around the world.”
While most countries have begun vaccinating for COVID-19, very few have yet to vaccinate even 5% of their population. By waiting for more data on COVID-19 vaccines and adolescents and children before making a recommendation, the WHO may improve the chances that countries will vaccinate those most vulnerable first.
“It’s clear that children and younger adults are at less risk of the more severe manifestations of COVID,” said Schaffner.
The CDC recommended the Pfizer vaccine for use in those ages 12-17 in the United States on May 12. At that point, the vaccine was available to everyone over age 18 in the U.S., as a majority of those most vulnerable — those over age 65, residents of nursing homes, and healthcare workers — had been inoculated. Additionally, the U.S. had more than enough vaccines so that vaccinating those under age 18 was feasible without limiting vaccines for the vulnerable population that had not yet been vaccinated.
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Original Author: David Hogberg