Health Minister Greg Hunt has urged pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to seek approval for its COVID-19 vaccine to be given to children as young as five in Australia as soon as possible.
Hours after the company announced plans to seek approval from US regulators for its vaccine to be given to younger children, Mr Hunt said a parallel process in Australia could boost protection for kids aged five to 11 more quickly.
Pfizer’s vaccine is already approved for people aged 12 and older in Australia and the US, but the company said recent trials with lower dose amounts showed effectiveness as high as that recorded in teenagers.
The announcement sparked expectations some younger children could be protected against COVID-19 by Halloween in the US. Vaccinations in Australia had been expected in early 2022.
Mr Hunt wrote to Pfizer’s Australia and New Zealand managing director Anne Harris on Tuesday, urging the company to lodge an application with the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA).
“Should the TGA find that the vaccine is safe and effective for children under 12 years of age the Australian government is well-placed to deliver this vaccine to this expanded age cohort with 40 million Pfizer doses being delivered in 2021, over 60 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine procured for 2022 and 25 million doses for 2023,” Mr Hunt said.
“I note that the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation [ATAGI] would also need to consider vaccination in this age cohort.
“Should the ATAGI also approve vaccination of this age cohort, vaccination would commence as a priority.”
Mr Hunt encouraged the company to submit a parallel application in Australia at “the earliest possible time”.
Pfizer studied the lower dose amount in about 2270 children at kindergarten and primary school in the US.
While kids are at lower risk of severe illness or death, the delta variant has been shown to be more infectious for younger people than previous strains.
Earlier on Tuesday, former deputy chief health officer Nick Coatsworth told Parliament’s COVID-19 committee it is time for some “cautious optimism” about the pandemic in Australia.
The Canberra Hospital doctor said COVID-19 treatments had improved and people were spending less time in hospital and intensive care with the virus.
“My message is cautious optimism. I think it is time to inject a little bit more optimism into the discussions around COVID-19,” Professor Coatsworth said.
“This was a terribly scary disease in 2020. It remains a scary disease, particularly for the unvaccinated, but moving forward I think we can develop a lot of confidence.
“Provided of course, that our health systems are able to provide access to care for people with COVID-19 and also people who are suffering from non-COVID related pathologies.
“That’s the focus of many clinicians, nurses, hospital administrators and indeed ministers around the country at the moment.”
Professor Coatsworth said so-called “zero COVID” was not realistic in Australia.
“It’s almost as if you have to have COVID circulating in your community to get used to it. We don’t want to see huge amounts of that, and the morbidity associated with it, but nor do we want to make our policy decisions based on the reality of 2020, rather than the reality of 2021.
“I think it’s important for mental health. I think it’s important to have a view of a positive future.
“The time of zero COVID is unfortunately over.”