MAKKAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority on Wednesday approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11.
Many countries have already approved the use of vaccines for children ages 12 and over. In some, attention is now turning to expanding vaccination eligibility to include younger children, following research into their safety and benefits. Some countries already offer vaccinations for this age group, and Saudi children are set to be next.
Last week the Saudi Ministry of Health sent a survey to parents asking for their views on the vaccination of younger children. The SFDA’s decision to approve the vaccine for younger children was based on data provided by the company demonstrating that it meets special regulatory requirements.
Epidemiologists in the Kingdom told Arab News that global studies had not detected any severe or unexpected complications resulting from vaccination in the 5-11 age group, suggesting that vaccines offer a safe and effective way for children to return to school and resume normal, everyday life, and to reduce the risk of them spreading the disease to their families.
Two weeks ago, citing safety reasons, the Saudi Ministry of Education announced that children under the age of 12 would not be returning to in-person classes.
“We want to emphasize that millions around the world have been vaccinated,” said Dr. Nezar Bahabri, the head of the Saudi Society for Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Jeddah.
“Studies have shown that hundreds of thousands of kids between the ages of 5 and 11 have received the COVID-19 vaccine without showing any complications.
“They received the vaccine before getting permission from the international, accredited medical agencies where elite doctors, with broad experiences in dealing with epidemics and their symptoms and childhood vaccinations, work.”
He stressed that specialist doctors in Saudi Arabia examine all the scientific and experimental evidence before reaching their conclusions.
“Children … need to return to schools,” Bahabri said. “They tend to spontaneously mingle and play together. If one student gets infected with the virus, they can easily transfer it to the rest of a class and from there to entire families, including the elderly, and communities. This means we have to pay the utmost attention to this (younger) age group.”
He added that although the risk posed by COVID-19 to children and adolescents is relatively low, compared with other age groups, vaccination is still important to protect them from emerging variants and because it has been proven to reduce this risk of spreading the disease.
“We are all afraid if one of our children gets sick, even for a day, what if this sickness is due to a new variant of the virus that can cause significant damage?” Bahabri said. “Recent studies have shown the safety of the vaccination and its efficacy in alleviating infections in children of this age group.”
Dr. Wael Ali Bajhamoom, an infectious diseases consultant and head of the internal medicine department at King Fahd Hospital in Jeddah, said the Kingdom has made great progress in the battle against the coronavirus thanks to the efforts of the government, in particular the Ministry of Health, with the support and commitment of the community.
“One of the most important things that made a significant change, and constituted the first step in ending a long pandemic, was the availability of an effective vaccine that would end the long struggle,” he told Arab News.
“Another step that has played an active and important role in reaching this stage is launching an inoculation campaign for kids aged over the age of 12,” he added, stressing that the results have been impressive.
“Any vaccine or treatment that will be adopted in the Kingdom will go through various stages of research and scientific clinical studies before being approved.”
More than 46 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the Kingdom to date.