The World Health Organization issued new COVID-19 vaccination guidance this week, urging countries to reconsider continuing to vaccinate "low risk groups, like healthy children and adolescents."
The WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts are now of the mind that, owing to the "impact of Omicron and high population-level immunity due to infection and vaccination," it may be prudent for nations to re-evaluate their vaccination schemes, taking into account "the cost-effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination for those at lower risk – namely healthy children and adolescents – compared to other health interventions."
The WHO's expert group maintains that geriatrics, adults with significant comorbidities, pregnant women, front-line health workers, and the immunocompromised should continue getting boosted every 6 or 12 months. While the group did not specify when this regime of vaccinations would end, they did note the recommendations "are time-limited, applying for the current epidemiological scenario only."
For healthy adults and sick kids, SAGE recommends primary series and first booster doses, but not additional boosters.
SAGE noted, however, that for healthy children ages 6 through 17, there is a "low burden of disease."
Accordingly, WHO's expert group "urges countries considering vaccination of this age group to base their decisions on contextual factors, such as the disease burden, cost effectiveness, and other health or programmatic priorities and opportunity costs."
The expert group went so far as to admit that the "public health impact of vaccinating healthy children and adolescents is comparatively much lower than the established benefits of traditional essential vaccines for children – such as the rotavirus, measles, and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines."
SAGE conceded that the burden of severe COVID-19 is low overall in infants, but claimed that vaccinating "pregnant persons" (i.e., pregnant women) still "protects both them and the fetus, while helping to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization of infants for COVID-19."
While the WHO appears less hawkish on COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend boosters for American children.
The latest CDC immunization schedule indicate that kids can begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in a triad series as young as 6 months of age.
A document containing highlights from SAGE's March meeting notes indicated why, besides the low risk posed by COVID-19 to healthy kids and teens, the WHO experts are now urging nations to re-evaluate their vaccination schemes. COVID-19, the pandemic, and corresponding disease control efforts diverted attention and resources from other pressing health issues, such as measles, yellow fever, and polio.
For instance, the CDC noted that "over 61 million doses of measles-containing vaccine were postponed or missed due to COVID-19 related delays in supplementary immunization activities."
The SAGE meeting document indicates there is "catch-up" to do now in terms of immunization strengthening, preparedness, and outbreak response on these fronts. It appears the experts figure this catch-up can be expedited if less focus and resources are spent providing low-benefit vaccinations to immune-robust age groups.
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