COVID-19: Kiwi families looking forward to Medsafe approval for child vaccination

Medsafe is deciding whether to approve the Pfizer COVID vaccine for 5 - 11-year-olds.

Friends Oliver Brickell and Etan Simpson are raising money with a Christmas bake sale; but one gift they really want this Christmas is the opportunity to get a vaccine.

"I'm 11 and I want the vaccine to protect myself, my family and my friends," Oliver says.

Nurse mum Fiona Brickell says it'll be a relief when he can.

"My husband, myself and our oldest son are already vaccinated and protected so it would be nice for Ollie to be able to be part of our family unit and protected as we are."

As for 10-year-old Etan there's someone in particular he wants to keep safe.

"My grandma because she's in a rest home. She has had three vaccinations but I do want to protect her still because she's vulnerable."

Children under 10 make up 20 percent of cases in New Zealand's current Delta outbreak - their rate is higher because they're not vaccinated. Most have just mild symptoms, with less than two percent in the 5-11 age group needing hospitalisation.

"There are risks to children, particularly children who are immunocompromised, particularly children who are Māori unfortunately," says Māori paediatrician Dr Owen Sinclair, who works for the Waitematā DHB.

Dr Sinclair says it's also about protecting the community.

"Children can still pass it on to other people, particularly their beloved whanau, so it helps create a web of protection for all those people that children really care about."

Including 5 - 11-year-olds will initially have an impact on vaccination rate numbers. Currently, 89 percent of the eligible population over 12 is fully vaccinated. But add the children into that elibgible group and that will drop back to 80 percent until they get their jabs.

And not all parents are keen. The latest Ministry of Health survey found 68 percent of those with 5 - 11-year-olds would allow them to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

Immunisation Advisory Centre medical director Professor Nikki Turner says she understands their concerns but says the data is looking very promising.

"It is currently being used in the US and Canada and already has been used in more than two million children. We will be looking closely at that safety data to ensure it continues to look safe."

It's just been approved for children in Australia.

Pending Medsafe approval expected next week, it'll be available in Aotearoa from the end of January.

"And that's on track and from what I understand that's proceeding smoothly but they're doing a very thorough job as we would expect them to do," COVID Response Minister Chris Hipkins says.

Dr Sinclair is also a dad and he's in no doubt about its benefit - he'll be getting his daughter vaccinated "as soon as possible".

"As soon as it's approved, Lucy will be booked in and be vaccinated. I have a 13-year-old son and as soon as it was available for him, he went and got vaccinated," he says.

"I view it as protecting my children's health."

Protecting them and the whole whanau.