Fifteen Brazilian children received COVID-19 vaccines on Friday, marking the start of an effort that was delayed several weeks by the federal government’s reluctance to endorse the immunization of children.
The country’s health regulator issued approval on Dec. 16 for the administration of the Pfizer shot to kids aged 5 to 11. The decision incensed Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has since complained about vaccinating children, saying he won’t let his 11-year-old daughter get shots and warning of possible side effects.
A study released by U.S. health authorities in late December determined that serious side effects of the Pfizer vaccine in 5 to 11 year olds are rare. These results are based on 8 million doses given to children in this age group.
Rather than follow the regulators’ guidance, Bolsonaro’s Health Ministry published an online questionnaire asking if children should need a doctor’s prescription to get the shot. Many of Bolsonaro’s supporters were also skeptical of vaccines and urged their followers to use social media apps to protest them.
Despite that, a majority of the survey’s almost 100,000 participants opposed the need for prescriptions and the Health Ministry announced last week that it would allow children to be vaccinated.
An eight-year-old boy from the Xavante indigenous group was first to have a shot at the ceremony at Sao Paulo’s Hospital das Clinicas. This came one day after 1.2million doses of medication designated for children arrived at an international airport in the state.
The boy is currently undergoing treatment in Sao Paulo to treat a genetic condition that forces him to wear braces around his legs. Jurandir Siridiwe (a tribal leader) watched his son receive immunization via the internet.
“If we had started immediately after Anvisa (the health regulator) approved in December the Pfizer vaccine for kids of this age, today all the children in Brazil would have been vaccinated with at least one dose,” Gov. Joao Doria spoke at the event.
The Health Ministry suggested an eight-week gap between the children’s first and subsequent doses of Pfizer shots, instead of the three weeks recommended for by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Sao Paulo state, that means children who are scheduled to return to in-person classes at public schools on Feb. 2 will do so before receiving a second dose.
While children are much less likely than adults to suffer severe illness or die from COVID-19, advocates say vaccinating them can minimize the virus’ spread in their families and society as a whole.
Brazil has begun experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said Thursday that the highly transmissible omicron variant has become the dominant strain in Brazil.
By Friday afternoon, only six of Brazil’s 27 states had received vaccines for children. The Health Ministry’s press team cited logistical hiccups, and informed The Associated Press that vaccines would be delivered to all remaining states this weekend. They will start vaccinating children on Monday.
Brazil has about 20 million children aged 5 to 11, according to the ministry.
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