Danish health agency calls for 12 to 15-year-olds to be vaccinated

The Danish Health Authority has recommended that children between the ages of 12 and 15 should also be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus to ensure herd immunity in the country.

Danish health agency calls for 12 to 15-year-olds to be vaccinated
Søren Brostrøm, director of the Danish Health Authority explains the thinking behind the change at a press conference on Thursday. Photo: Olafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

At a press conference on Thursday morning, the authority argued that the roughly 70 percent immunity level that is likely to be achieved by vaccinating those aged 16 and above would not be enough to keep the epidemic under control without restrictions. 

“When we’ve completed vaccinating those of 16 years old and above, we might have a community immunity of between 60 and 65 percent,” the authority’s director, Søren Brostrøm, explained.

“If you add in those under the age of 16 who have already had the disease, then maybe it is 70 percent community immunity,” he continued. 

“Then the question is whether that is sufficient to maintain epidemic control. The answer is that it probably is not enough. That is the background for our recommendation.” 

In its press release, the authority said that the vaccinations of the 12 to 15-year-old age bracket would begin “after the summer holidays”, with Brostrøm adding at the press conference that they would “probably” take place in September. 

Denmark is the latest in a string of countries to open up vaccination for children, with France starting vaccinations for 12 to 18-year-olds on June 15th, several regions in Italy beginning to vaccinate the under 16s several weeks ago, Spain aiming to vaccinate 12 to 17-year-olds before September, and the Swiss planning to begin vaccinating 12 to 15-year-olds from mid-July. 

According to the UK’s state broadcaster, the BBC, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is likely in the coming days to issue a statement declaring that most 12 to 15-year-olds will not be vaccinated in the UK. 

The European Medicines Agency approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on children of 12 years and above in May. 

At the press conference, Klaus Birkelund Johansen, chair of a group representing paediatricians in Denmark, openly questioned the authority’s recommendation, saying he would have preferred to wait until after the summer before taking a decision, as by then there will be more data on the side effects of the vaccines, and also a better understanding of the epidemic situation. 

“I personally would have wanted us to hold back from taking the decision now,” he said, according to state broadcaster DR. “I think a more obvious way to do it would have been to wait and take the decision as we approach mid-September, when we know more.” 

“It is always easier to decide to do something than it is to decide not to do what you have already decided to do,” he added. 

At the press conference, Brostrøm stressed that any vaccination of children would be voluntary. 

“There is not going to be any compulsion,” he said. “Those who opt out will be respected in just the same way as those who opt in will be.” 

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Covid-19: Danish research finds improved protection from updated vaccine

Denmark’s infectious disease control agency State Serum Institute (SSI) says that a second booster or “fourth dose” with an updated form of the Covid-19 vaccine will significantly improve protection against the virus.

Covid-19: Danish research finds improved protection from updated vaccine

The fourth dose will offer markedly better protection than if a person has only received a “third” dose or single booster jab, SSI said in a press statement.

SSI researchers, working with colleagues from the other Nordic countries, have analysed the effect of the additional booster jab with the vaccine, which has been updated in line with newer dominant subvariants of the coronavirus.

When the Danish population was first vaccinated against Covid-19, the vaccines were designed to offer protection against the original form of the virus, SSI writes.

But newer variants have made the original vaccines less effective. The updated vaccines are designed to have the best possible effect against both the original variant as well as the Omicron variant.

There are currently two versions of the updated vaccine. One is adapted towards the BA.1 Omicron subvariant, with another adapted to the BA.4-5 subvariant.

In the Nordic countries, the updated vaccines were offered during autumn 2022 to all persons over the age of 50 in Denmark and Sweden, over 60 in Finland and over 65 in Norway.

A fourth dose with the BA.1-updated version reduced the risk of hospitalisation with Covid-19 by 74 percent and the risk of death by 80 percent compared to the third dose, SSI found.

The BA.4-5 updated version reduced the risk of hospitalisation by 81 percent and the risk of death by 78 percent.

The latter of the two updated versions (BA.4-5) was found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation with Covid-19 by 32 percent compared to the BA-1 version.

“This is maybe not so surprising because BA.4-5 subvariants were dominant in autumn 2022,” SSI head of department Anders Hviid said in the statement.

“But I think we are among the first [countries] to be able to measure this based on the large quantities of data we have available from working across four countries,” he said.

The research was supported by the EU’s European Medicines Agency (EMA).

SSI notes that the frequency of hospitalisation and particularly death due to Covid-19 was very low after both the third and fourth doses of the vaccine.

The academic paper resulting from the study can be read in English here.

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