China to start immunizing children up to age 3 as cases spread
Children as young as 3 will start receiving COVID-19 vaccines in China, where 76% of the population has been fully vaccinated and authorities maintain a zero-tolerance policy towards epidemics.
Municipal and provincial governments in at least five provinces have issued notices in recent days announcing that children between the ages of 3 and 11 will need to be vaccinated.
The expansion of the vaccination campaign comes as parts of China take further crackdowns in an attempt to eradicate small outbreaks. Gansu, a northwestern province heavily dependent on tourism, closed all tourist sites on Monday after discovering new cases of COVID-19. Residents of parts of Inner Mongolia have been ordered to stay indoors due to an outbreak there.
The National Health Commission reported that 35 new cases of local transmission had been detected in the past 24 hours, including four in Gansu. Another 19 cases were found in the Inner Mongolia region, with others scattered across the country.
China has used closures, quarantines and mandatory testing for the virus throughout the pandemic and has largely eradicated cases of local infection while fully immunizing 1.07 billion people of its population of 1.4 billion .
In particular, the government is concerned about the spread of the more contagious delta variant among travelers and having a public widely vaccinated ahead of the Beijing Olympics in February. Foreign spectators have already been banned from the Games, and participants will have to stay in a bubble between them and outsiders.
The most widely used vaccines in China, from Sinopharm and Sinovac, have been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness and transmission of the virus, based on public data. But the protection they offer against the delta variant has not received a definitive answer, although officials say they remain protective.
Hubei, Fujian and Hainan provinces have all issued notices at the provincial level alerting to new vaccination requirements, while individual cities in Zhejiang and Hunan provinces have also issued similar announcements.
In June, China approved two vaccines – Sinopharm from the Beijing Biologics Institute and Sinovac – for children aged 3 to 17, but it only vaccinated those 12 and older. In August, regulators approved another, that of Sinopharm of the Wuhan Institute of Biologics.
After the vaccines received national approval for children in China, foreign governments began to immunize children in their own countries. Cambodia uses both Sinovac and Sinopharm injections in children 6 to 11 years old. Chilean regulatory authorities have approved Sinovac for children as young as 6 years old. In Argentina, regulatory authorities have approved the Sinopharm vaccine for children as young as 3 years old.
Many developing countries have left aside the vaccine race from Western pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna who have bought vaccines from China. China shipped more than 1.2 billion doses in September, according to its foreign ministry.
Even with widespread national and global use, not all parents are reassured about the vaccine, citing less publicly available data on injections.
Wang Lu, who lives in the southern city of Fuzhou, Fujian Province, said she was in no particular rush to get her 3-year-old son vaccinated. “I’m just not very clear on the safety profile of the vaccine, so I don’t really want to get it vaccinated, at the very least, I don’t want to be the first,” Wang said.
Sinovac began an efficacy trial with 14,000 participating children in several countries in September. Its approval in China was based on smaller Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials. Sinopharm’s Beijing shot was also approved based on Phase 1 and Phase 2 trials. These have been published more late in peer-reviewed journals.
Other parents said they weren’t worried, as many other people had already been vaccinated.
Wu Cong, a mother of 7, said her daughter’s school in Shanghai had not yet notified them of the vaccination.
“I think it’s not too different from the flu shot, there have been so many people vaccinated already, so I don’t have too much to worry about,” Wu said.