Covid vaccination – only every fifth elementary school child is vaccinated

An eight-year-old could hardly wait: “Why haven’t I been vaccinated yet, when will it be my turn???, my daughter asked me,” says a mother in an interview with the “Wiener Zeitung”. “You don’t want your child to be lying there with myocarditis,” explains the self-vaccinated father of a nine-year-old boy and a twelve-year-old boy, explaining his skepticism. And: “We don’t get vaccinated, also because our pediatrician no longer recommends Omicron.”

“We’re not hardcore vaccinators,” says the mother of a seven-year-old. She waited longer for the six-fold vaccination, for example. Different with Covid-19: “I am convinced that the vaccination also works in children and protects them from severe courses and long-Covid.”

“Parents are afraid and worried,” says the mother of an unvaccinated twelve-year-old. “I’m not sure if it’s safe,” she explains. The technology of the vaccine is experimental, that’s different with the polio vaccination: “It’s a long-established, traditional method,” she explains, why an approved inactivated vaccine against Covid-19 “would be another new consideration” for her.

The “Wiener Zeitung” decided to anonymize the parents who disclosed their motives and concerns in order to protect them from possible negative reactions. It is clear that younger children in particular have hardly been vaccinated against Sars-CoV-2, but that not every parental decision – whether for or against – seems carved in stone.

19 percent double vaccinated six to ten year olds

In the eight-year-old’s family, it is “quite normal to also be vaccinated against Corona”. Current data from the Ministry of Health, which is available to the “Wiener Zeitung”, shows that this normality seems to exist among the elderly. 72 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 18 have been vaccinated twice. For students in AHS lower grades and new secondary schools, the figure is now 44.5 percent. For children of primary school age, there are currently 18.6 percent with full vaccination protection – i.e. two vaccine doses as for other under 18 year olds.

The proportion of children and adolescents vaccinated against Sars-CoV-2 has been increasing since the EMA decision on November 25, 2021 that the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine is also suitable for children from the age of five. But the younger the children are, the slower it is.

According to a survey by the Austrian Corona Panel at the University of Vienna and political scientist Julia Partheymüller, the attitude of parents with children under the age of 14 has changed over the course of the pandemic. In June 2020, 21 percent of the around 300 parents surveyed said that they would have their children vaccinated against Corona as soon as possible – but 43 percent said they did not want to do that under any circumstances.

That turned to 37 percent for and 31 percent against child vaccination at the end of November. In January, 41 percent said their children under 14 have either already been vaccinated or will be, and 31 percent said they don’t want to do so.

Weighing possible consequences of illness and vaccination

The reasons were not asked, but for Partheymüller it is obvious “that, as with adults, safety and effectiveness are weighed against each other in particular”. But there are also myths, especially when it comes to child vaccinations, which she herself – “because they have long since been disproved – do not want to give space again”.

The Ministry of Health counters some rumors with facts: “There is no evidence that vaccinations against Covid-19 cause autism,” it says, for example, not even for other vaccinations. In the study, in which only twelve children took part, the British doctor Andrew Wakefield was paid in advance for the appropriate result. Other, larger studies also did not support his claim.

Although or because there is currently hardly any other disease and vaccine against which there is so much research, findings have been proven and disproved in a short time as with Covid-19, serious studies also raise concerns. That is why the recommendations for use of the National Vaccination Committee for Covid vaccinations were and will be – also to children and young people – renewed again and again. Because international safety reports reported “an increased incidence” of myocarditis, i.e. heart muscle inflammation, after Moderna vaccinations in younger people, everyone under 30 is vaccinated with the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine.

Daniela Karall, President of the Austrian Society for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (ÖGKJ), advises parents to weigh up the risks of vaccinations with those of the disease – even in children. “Inflammation of the heart muscle occurs after vaccination in one in 50,000 to 100,000 cases, but in one case in 5,000 to 10,000 severe Covid diseases,” says Karall. And: “Postviral multisystem diseases, PIMS for short, are significantly less common after vaccination than after an infection. The ratio is 1 to 100.”

It takes until suspected side effects of vaccines, such as those in the Reports from the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care are listed, be proven or disproved – a conclusive assessment of the 12-year-old who died after a vaccination is not yet possible. Researching how the consequences of Covid-19 change with new variants also takes time. By September 2021, 142 of around 100,000 infected children in Austria had PIMS, and six out of ten required intensive care treatment. “Children have already died from it in Austria,” says Dieter Furthner, head of the department for paediatrics and youth medicine at the Salzkammergut Klinikum Vöcklabruck.

Hardened fronts make things difficult for children

It remains to be seen whether the consequences of Covid-19 disease with Omikron for children and young people will be alleviated in the long term. “The current omicron wave can change a lot,” says one To write the Society for Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. However, the doctors also assume that Sars-CoV-2 could return in autumn. And: “It is currently not possible to reliably predict whether the courses will then be even milder than with Omikron or whether a more aggressive variant will occur again.” The ÖGKJ therefore continues to recommend vaccination for children and young people – as before, voluntarily, with child-friendly education and without disadvantages for unvaccinated children.

The calls at Wired advice (Tel.: 147), the emergency call for children and young people in crises, show that the yes or no to vaccination is less of a burden: “It’s not about fears about the vaccine, it’s more about the stress caused by arguments about it within the family,” says Advice on wire manager Birgit Satke. Pressure is created when young people want to be vaccinated but their parents are against it, or when “two fronts collide”, one for, one against vaccination: “Children feel caught between two chairs.” Only one child has reported pressure at school so far. According to Satke, the school material to be mastered is a far bigger problem than vaccinations.

The political scientist Katharina Theresa Paul from the University of Vienna also sees schools as a possible place for education about vaccinations: “School doctors could also advise parents and motivate those who are still hesitating.”

Vienna is already going in this direction: The pilot project to vaccinate against Covid-19 in elementary schools will be rolled out after the semester break on February 14, the “Wiener Zeitung” reported. According to information from the office of Education Director Heinrich Himmer, 185 of 225 elementary schools in Vienna are involved. The catch: 40 cannot be “cared for” due to a lack of a school doctor. In any case, the vaccination rate could increase: In the eight pilot schools, between ten and 30 percent took part, depending on the school location.

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