Ministry of Health says they are consulting on vaccinating children from five to 11 years old against Covid-19 with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine following the Centre for Disease Control’s (CDC) endorsement.
But public health experts have given mixed views on the ministry’s move owing to a number of factors based on available data.
In a written response, Ministry of Health Principal Secretary Charles Mwansambo said the matter has since been directed to the immunisation advisory group pending guidance.
He said: “The ministry is awaiting guidance from the Malawi Immunisation Technical Advisory Group [Maitag]. It is already on their table and we will let you know once we have gotten the guidance.”
Mwansambo, however, said everything will move depending on the guidance that will be provided by the Maitag, further adding that 700 830 doses of the Pfizer vaccines are scheduled to arrive in the country by the end of this year.
On Tuesday, CDC director Rochelle Walensky endorsed its Advisory Committee on Immunisation Practices’ (ACIP) recommendation that children from five to 11 years old can be vaccinated against Covid-19 with the Pfizer vaccines following clinical trials that showed 91 percent effectiveness of the vaccine in children in the United States.
According to a published statement on CDCs website, during the clinical trials, the vaccine side effects were mild, self-limiting and similar to those seen in adults. The most common side effect, however, was a sore arm.
In an interview, public health expert and epidemiologist Titus Divala said data from the Public Health Institute of Malawi (Phim) indicates that there are hardly any deaths in Malawians under the age of 30, therefore, it would be a waste of resources to vaccinate children at this stage.
He said the United States and other western countries are doing this against the global good and World Health Organisation (WHO) that recommends that the vaccines should first be given to all people at high risk globally before giving to those at lower risk.
Said Divala: “Unfortunately, with the start of the vaccination drive for children in these countries, now the demand will increase leading to further challenges for poor countries to access doses from manufacturers, all which are based in the west.
“And the best way of utilising such a hard-to-get resource is by vaccinating those at higher risk first.”
But in a separate interview, Malawi University of Science and Technology head of Biological Sciences Department, Gama Bandawe, said the ministry has made the right decision for the Maitag to have a look at the data and understand the rationale and evidence that was used in the approval of the vaccination of the children.
He said: “The Ministry of Health is correct to move on it. There may be a lot of vaccine hesitancy but its very important on the basis that those who want to get their families protected have the right to do so. Giving access to vaccines to another sector of the population is quite a good development.”
Bandawe said administering vaccines to children will help in vaccinating many people besides the targeted 11 million or 60 percent of the country’s critical population.
While stressing that a fourth wave is likely to be experienced as winter approaches, he said vaccinating the children will also help in protecting a majority of the citizenry, adding that vaccination is the safest way in ensuring protection.
Currently, the country has vaccinated a total of 2.9 percent of the population while neighbouring Zambia has vaccinated 3.36 percent of their population, Mozambique 10.66 percent, Zimbabwe 13 percent and Tanzania 0.57 percent.