/The US shouldn’t prioritize vaccinating teens over donating shots abroad if it wants to get back to normal, experts say

The US shouldn’t prioritize vaccinating teens over donating shots abroad if it wants to get back to normal, experts say



pfizer administered to a teenager

A
teen ‘COVID-19 student ambassador’ received a dose of Pfizer at
Ford Field on April 6, 2021 in Detroit,
Michigan.

Matthew Hatcher/Getty
Images


Summary List Placement

In January, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general
at the World Health Organization (WHO), warned that the world was
on the “brink of a catastrophic moral
failure”
by not giving enough vaccines to poorer countries.
“It is not right that younger, healthier adults in rich countries
are vaccinated before health workers and older people in poorer
countries,” he said. 

Five months on, more than half of Americans have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine
dose,
US vaccine supply has outstripped demand, and
12-year-olds could be offered Pfizer’s shot as early as Thursday.

Meanwhile, vaccines remain scarce in low- and middle-income
countries and many of the most vulnerable people in those nations
haven’t yet received a shot, a WHO spokesperson told Insider. In
India, where millions are dying and
the virus has mutated, less
than 10% of people have had at least one vaccine dose, according
to Oxford University’s Our World in Data.

Some experts see this disparity as a moral dilemma. “You don’t
need to vaccinate all the way down, say, to your teen population
… before you send out vaccine doses to COVAX,” Melinda French
Gates, co-chair at the Gates Foundation, said May 9. COVAX is the
WHO-backed initiative that aims to get more vaccines to low and
middle-income countries.

To get itself — and the world — back to normal, the US needs to
both vaccinate its young people and send more shots abroad, some
experts told Insider. Others went further, and said that it
doesn’t make sense to vaccinate low-risk populations, such as
kids, when vulnerable people abroad are at risk abroad.

Fauci: We need to do both

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor, has
said that immunizing young people
is essential to achieve herd immunity
, which is when enough
people are vaccinated that the virus can no longer spread from
person to person. 

But Fauci has also advocated sending doses abroad to curb the
virus’ spread. 

“[India has] got to get their resources, not only from within,
but also from without, and that’s the reason why other countries
need to chip in to be able to get either supplies for the Indians
to make their own vaccines or to get vaccines donated,” Fauci
told ABC News Sunday.

A spokesperson from US President Joe Biden’s administration told
Insider that it had committed 60 million AstraZeneca doses to
countries in need, once cleared by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA).


Read more:
How coronavirus variants called ‘escape
mutants’ threaten to undo all our progress

Kathleen Neuzil, professor in vaccinology at the University of
Maryland School of Medicine, told Insider that vaccinating teens
and sending doses abroad via COVAX were not “necessarily mutually
exclusive.”

Neuzil said that she’d witnessed more younger people from ethnic
minorities and with chronic conditions getting sick with COVID-19
in the US, who needed access to vaccines. But she said a
coordinated response was required between nations. “No single
country alone can beat this pandemic.”

Dr. Erlinda Ulloa, a pediatrician studying the safety and
efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines in kids at the University of
California, told Insider that fair vaccine distribution and
immunizing teens in the US were separate issues.

Ulloa said that 12 to 15 year-olds should get vaccines if and
when it’s recommended. “It’s remarkably safe and effective in
this age group,” she said. But from an ethical perspective, if
there’s opportunity to support vaccination efforts abroad then
the US should do it, Ulloa said.

Getting back to normal


coronavirus hug

Jacquie
Carney runs to hug her grandma, Donna Vidrine, upon arrival in
Los Angeles, California on November 23, 2020.

Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Getty
Images


Janet Englund, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at
Seattle Children’s Hospital, told Insider that if US teens
weren’t immunized the virus would continue to spread in younger
age groups. “To get back to ‘normal,’ we need to immunize our
younger people,” she said. 

“But if we don’t take care of the rest of the world, it’s going
to be a temporary fix,” she added. “All these variants will
eventually escape our vaccine and the best way to handle that is
to vaccinate [the US and the rest of the world].” 

Englund said the coronavirus vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and
BioNTech — the shot that has been authorized for US teens — might
be technically difficult to use in low and middle income
countries right now as it requires very cold storage
temperatures,
although the groups are working on a vaccine
that can be stored in a normal fridge. Other vaccines from
AstraZeneca and Johnson &
Johnson (J&J)
could be more useful as they can be stored
at normal temperatures already, and J&J’s shot is just one dose, she said.

Prioritize vulnerable adults abroad, two experts
say

Russell Viner, professor of adolescent health at University
College London, told Insider in a statement that the “key risk”
for society was the “diversion of vaccines” to low risk groups
while vulnerable adults in other countries remain unvaccinated.

Viner said very few children and teenagers ended up in intensive
care with COVID-19 disease, and almost all of these were the same
children that are vulnerable to winter viruses every year. It’s
difficult to argue that vaccination benefits healthy teens, given
our current knowledge, he said. 

Viner said there was undoubtedly a very small group of teenagers
who were clinically extremely vulnerable and should be
vaccinated. Teenagers also play a role in transmission so if they
remain unvaccinated they could act as a reservoir of infection,
he said. 

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol,
told Insider in a statement that giving vaccines to adolescents
wasn’t a priority, at least for now.

Finn explained that most children who catch coronavirus don’t get
seriously ill. “Indeed, most don’t get sick at all,” he
said. 

Finn said that at this point in the pandemic, when there are
global shortages of vaccines, and lots of vulnerable people who
haven’t got a shot, the priority was to prevent large epidemic
waves, like the one in India.

“Those outbreaks pose a global threat as they drive the evolution
of vaccine-resistant variants and their dissemination around the
world,” he said.

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