Questions as children targeted to raise overall vaccination rate

The Czech Ministry of Health wants to vaccinate more children against Covid-19 – and soon, with a view to vaccinated pupils being able to return to classrooms without tests in September. But some say the jab shouldn’t be given to children to boost overall vaccination numbers.

Vaccinations against the coronavirus have been available to the over-12s in the Czech Republic since the beginning of July.

Those in the 12 to 15 age group have been receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and around one-fifth of those eligible have so far entered the process.

Of that number, half – roughly 12 percent of the total – have actually gotten at minimum one jab. The others have at least registered or been given a date.

Now the Ministry of Health is increasingly targeting these youngsters, with rising levels of vaccination across the population contributing to relatively low infection rates.

Adam Vojtěch | Photo: Vladimír Pryček,  ČTK

To that end Minister Adam Vojtěch has urged hospital chiefs to boost capacity.

“The basic task for hospital directors is for capacity to be such that, essentially, there will be no waiting. I’ve made it very clear to them that waits of several weeks for the initial injection are unacceptable. Basically, that’s out of the question – the holidays will end soon and we need to vaccinate children in that period.”

When the bell goes for the new academic year only fully inoculated students can avoid regular Covid tests at school, Mr. Vojtěch told Czech Television.

“From the beginning our vision has been that children who have had two doses, plus a period of two weeks from the second one, will not need to be tested.”

It is also hoped that walk-in vaccination centres where online registration is not required will appeal to the young.

However, not everybody agrees with the targeting of the 12s and over.

Among the sceptics is Vojtěch Thon, an immunologist at Masaryk University in Brno, who spoke to Czech Radio on Monday.

Vojtěch Thon | Photo: Alena Blažejovská,  Czech Radio

“When it comes to children we have to realise we still have vaccines that are for ‘emergency use’, meaning to save lives. To date trials have been carried out on just 1,000 or 1,200 children – the least possible number – and we will only gradually obtain information. The main thing is to vaccinate those who could die, which at present does not mean children – many of whom have already had this illness.”

A recent poll indicated that 23 percent of the Czech population are not willing to be vaccinated against Covid.

Some experts, such as immunologist and ex-health minister Roman Prymula, say that given this reality those in younger categories should be inoculated in order to prevent the circulation of the virus – and to protect those who are not vaccinated.

However, Mr. Thon questions the ethics of this, arguing that the young cannot be expected to protect the old. He also says that children are more likely to suffer negative side effects when they get the jab.