Public health officials appear to be waiting in vain to strike a deal for the procurement of COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines suitable for children under age 12.
Coordinator of the National Vaccine Campaign Dr Elizabeth Ferdinand revealed that an order for thousands of first and second doses made around November last year has so far not reached Barbadian shores.
“We have children five to 12 in view and we are trying to source enough vaccines to cover all of them, both for their first dose and their second,” Dr Ferdinand told Barbados TODAY.
“The discussions are going on, we’ve looked at the possibility of getting vaccines for them, we’ve tried to find out where we can get them from, we’ve placed an order and we’ll wait and see what happens, because it’s a different vaccine from what we have for the older people and the older children,” the vaccine coordinator explained.
Dr Ferdinand made it clear that no taxpayer dollars were spent on the order.
Earlier this week Director of Medical Services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Dr Clyde Cave, in another section of the press, expressed concern about a sizeable increase in children contracting the virus since the detection of the Omicron variant.
He added that while there was no major rise in hospital admissions, the sheer volume of new cases would expose children with underlying conditions to the dreaded Multisymptom Inflammatory Syndrome (MIS-C).
The Pfizer doses for children are not as “concentrated” as the vaccines for older children and adults, says Dr Ferdinand.
But the doses also have not been cleared for use by the World Health Organization (WHO), on whose judgements local health officials heavily depend.
“We haven’t had any directive coming from the WHO, so the WHO has not really approved it as yet. The USA is using it, the FDA has approved it for their population, but the WHO has not come out and said you can go ahead and use for children five to 12,” said Ferdinand.
That does not stop some parents from contacting the National Vaccine Task Force to find out if and when their young children can be inoculated.
But the vaccine coordinator explained: “You don’t just pick them up. You have to search around and see how we can put in an order, see what the [Pan American Health Organisation] PAHO can do, see what Covax can give us. So we’re looking to source them.”
Of the 21,000 children ages 12-18, 11,093 or 52.82 per cent have taken first doses and 9,928 or 47.2 percent have taken the second jab.
There has been greater uptake of the vaccine among minors ages 16-18 than those 12-15, who are more likely to be in school.
“I am hoping that if school becomes face-to-face, and vaccination is one of the requirements for them to re-enter, that they will come up and get them, but remember, some of the children are between 16 and 18 and they are the hard-to-reach young people. So we have to have two types of strategies. One for those who are out of school young people and another for those who are still in school,” she added.
Officials from the Ministry of Health and Wellness are still meeting with stakeholders about the reopening of face-to-face classes. A decision is expected to be made by January 20.