• CORONAVIRUS

Push to have children ages 5-11 get COVID-19 vaccines gains steam

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
A child in the 5-11 age bracket receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Tokyo.

Parents and guardians will officially be urged to have children ages 5-11 vaccinated for COVID-19 under the Immunization Law from as early as September.

The Japan Pediatric Society has also issued its opinion that COVID-19 vaccinations for children are “recommended.”

Providing information to parents and guardians about the vaccines’ efficacy and safety will become a key point to improving the vaccination rate for this age group.

In February, vaccinations for children 5-11 were classified as “provisional,” meaning parents and guardians did not have to “make efforts to get children vaccinated” on such grounds as data on efficacy was insufficient.

Since then, new findings have been compiled. On Aug. 8, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s advisory panel gave the green light to urge parents and guardians to have children in the age bracket vaccinated. Data from overseas shows that the second shot of currently available COVID-19 vaccines for children 5-11 was about 80% effective in preventing hospitalization and there were no serious safety concerns either.

An increasing number of infections among children was behind the decision to soon actively urge parents and guardians to get children vaccinated.

About 317,000 teenagers and younger were newly infected with the novel coronavirus in the week through Aug. 2, more than double the peak of the sixth wave, according to ministry data and other sources. At the time, only 18.5% of children ages 5-11 had received the second dose of the vaccine.

It is still unclear, however, if this regulation would help increase the vaccination rate because the provision is not enforceable. It would be “only a difference in the intensity of the message,” a ministry official said.

Some parents and guardians are hesitant about getting children vaccinated. A Tokyo company employee in her 30s has postponed vaccinating her 5-year-old daughter out of concerns over side effects. Still, she said, a number of infections have been reported at her nursery school.

“I want to consult with my husband and we’ll carefully consider whether to get her vaccinated,” she said.

National Institute of Infectious Diseases Director Takaji Wakita, who heads the ministry’s advisory panel, said: “The announcement does not make vaccinations obligatory. Please understand the efficacy and safety of data thoroughly before making a decision.”