Greece, Italy, and a handful of other European Union nations began vaccinating children ages 5-11 against COVID-19 on Wednesday as EU governments prepared for the Omikron variant to appear while traveling and large gatherings of the holiday season unfolds quickly.
Acrobats disguised as superheroes abseil down the walls of a hospital in Milan, Italy as the city prepares for the launch of the new vaccine. They wore capes and bodysuits and stopped to greet patients through the windows of a pandemic ward and other children in a children’s wing.
Young people who were admitted to Greece for the first time were given stickers and a day off from school.
Greece administered its first shots of younger children hours after authorities announced the country’s highest daily death toll from the pandemic: 130 people. Greek Minister of Education Niki Kerameus was among the first to respond.
“I will not hide the fact that, after talking to doctors and receiving scientific data on a personal level, our family decided to have our 5 1/2 year old son vaccinated,” said Kerameus, before calling her son Loukas. to get his syringe in an Athens hospital.
Dr. Franco Locatelli, chairman of Italy’s Supreme Health Council, led the country through its first devastating wave of the pandemic. He urged Italian families to join the child vaccination program in hopes of boosting the country’s already high vaccination rate in the face of a new surge in infections.
âThink of this as an appeal to all families,â said Locatelli. âTake this chance. Talk to your pediatrician. Vaccinate your children. Do it for her. Show them how much you love your children by giving them the greatest possible protection. “
Elisabetta Valente, who works as a doctor in Rome, took her 5- and 9-year-olds to a museum with a vaccination center for children.
“I’m a pediatrician and work in intensive care units,” said Valente. “When you see what happens to those who choose not to have the vaccine, you think, ‘What if they made a different choice?'”
Spain and Hungary also expanded their vaccination programs to include younger children. EU regulators last month approved a reduced-dose vaccine manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech for use in ages 5-11.
A two-month spike in infections across Europe eased slightly in early December, but the appearance of the Omicron variant has created uncertainty. According to an analysis on Tuesday of data from South Africa, where omicron is driving a surge in infections, the variant appears easier to transmit from person to person and better bypassing vaccines, but also milder.
A senior EU official said Wednesday the bloc expects Omicron to dominate infections in the EU by mid-January. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control suggested governments consider travel restrictions and encourage vaccination campaigns and booster vaccinations.
Vaccinations for children are voluntary in all EU countries and require parental consent.
The Spanish authorities have set an ambitious goal to vaccinate younger children before the usual family Christmas celebrations. Almost 90% of the country’s residents aged 12 and over have received two doses of vaccine.
“I am very happy to see so many parents with their children here,” said Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias when visiting a school in a central Spanish city of Toledo, where injections were given on Wednesday. A 40-second video ad from the Spanish Ministry of Health showed child actors saying, âIt’s our turn. Our vaccines are finally here! Grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, uncles and aunts and our teacher have already been vaccinated. “
Poland, Portugal, Croatia and Slovenia plan to lower the age for eligibility later this week.
Several hundred people protested in front of the government headquarters in the Croatian capital Zagreb on Wednesday. The protesters shouted “Don’t kill our children!” And “We won’t give you our children!”
The World Health Organization says more evidence of COVID-19 vaccines in children is needed in order to make general recommendations about their use in children. It also states that vaccines should generally be reserved for those most susceptible to developing serious COVID-19 disease, including the elderly, people with weaker immune systems, and health care workers.
Some EU countries are more cautious when vaccinating younger children. Germany has started a regional rollout, the Netherlands will wait until after the holidays and France is prioritizing children with heart and respiratory problems, obesity and diabetes.
The UK has been slower than many European countries to start vaccinating children ages 12-15 and it has not yet approved vaccines for younger children. Wei Shen Lim, a member of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, said the group expected a decision before Christmas but was awaiting a recommendation from UK regulators.
Conservative lawmaker Jeremy Hunt, a former health secretary, criticized the delay in approving vaccines for younger children.
“Our regulators, who were the quickest in the world, are taking too long now,” he said.
Winfield answered from Rome. AP journalists from across Europe contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic