POLITICS & INSTITUTIONS - POLITICS

Coronavirus

Children’s immunity: a challenge fraught with uncertainty



In Luxembourg, vaccination is currently open to adolescents aged 12 and over. However, in order to achieve high herd immunity, this limit may change in the coming months. (Photo: Shutterstock)

In Luxembourg, vaccination is currently open to adolescents aged 12 and over. However, in order to achieve high herd immunity, this limit may change in the coming months. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Covid infections in young children are at an all-time high worldwide. But while children of all ages can infect and be infected, there is still uncertainty about the level of transmissibility by age--which could have an impact on the decision to vaccinate them.

With covid-19 infections on the rise among children the World Health Organization (WHO) wants to look in detail at the issue of the transmissibility of the virus in children, as uncertainties remain.

“There is an urgent need for more detailed epidemiological information on the factors influencing the susceptibility of children and adolescents to the new variants” of Sars-CoV-2, the WHO announced on 15 September.

One thing is certain: children and adolescents of all ages can become infected and transmit the virus to others. And while the infections generally cause less severe disease and fewer deaths than in adults, "they can contribute to transmission in the community,” notes the WHO.

Mixed studies

“The transmissibility of Sars-CoV-2 at different ages remains uncertain,” says  the WHO. While "the new coronavirus seems to affect adolescents more" and "preliminary evidence" suggests that children may be less infectious than adolescents and adults, the results of studies conducted so far remain "mixed".

This is because “the studies were conducted at different times during the pandemic, when populations were subject to different levels of public health measures,” the WHO explains.

On the other hand, "there is concern that mild symptoms may have led to fewer tests" and thus to "a decrease in the number of identified cases of infection in children and adolescents,” the WHO says further. These factors could therefore distort the conclusions.

Collective immunity in sight

The issue at stake would provide important arguments for deciding to vaccinate the youngest children, a politically very sensitive subject. In Luxembourg, vaccination is currently open to adolescents aged 12 and over.

But in order to achieve a consistent collective immunity--at least 85% of the population must be immunised to face the Delta variant--this age limit could change, according to the director of health, Jean-Claude Schmit.

"I am almost certain that within two or three months we will have an authorised vaccine for children," he said in an interview with the Luxemburger Wort. "I don't think that toddlers will be vaccinated as a priority, but certainly those aged six and over," he added, acknowledging that this will pose "a whole debate for society".

Is vaccination necessary?

Gérard Schockmel, consulting physician in infectious diseases at the Robert Schuman Hospitals (HRS), said in a recent interview that he did not see the need to vaccinate children. "Vaccination is necessary for other serious childhood diseases, such as diphtheria or tetanus. But covid is not a disease of childhood," he explains. "And, from a social point of view, from the perspective of achieving herd immunity, it's not up to them to get vaccinated because adults don't want to."

Detailed studies should determine which direction to take. But in any case, the debate is far from over.

This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.