The Government should immediately make plans to vaccinate New Zealand's children against COVID-19, says ACT leader David Seymour, skipping the usual Medsafe approval process.
The US Food and Drug Administration on Friday (local time) gave the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the thumbs-up for five to 11-year-olds. An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will convene next week to make a recommendation on the administration of the vaccine, with the CDC director to make the final call.
"New Zealand's children deserve the same protection," Seymour said on Saturday. "[The Government] should say if it's possible before school is rumoured to go back on November 15."
That's when primary school kids are pencilled in to physically return to school - by then it would have been three months since they last stepped in a classroom.
At present, the vaccine is only approved for kids 12 and older. It can't be used until it gets the tick from our own medicines safety agency Medsafe. After the US approved the vaccine for kids aged 12 to 15 earlier this year, it took nearly six weeks for Medsafe to do the same.
Seymour says the Government should exempt COVID-19 treatments and technologies from the Medsafe approval process, arguing that if something gets approved by the US, Australia, UK or European Union, it should be deemed safe to use in New Zealand.
"There is no way that Medsafe can replicate what the FDA has done. We don't have enough COVID in the community to test effectiveness and waiting two months to test safety would give no more reassurance than the FDA already offers," Seymour said.
"The idea that Medsafe is waiting for an application, or data, from Pfizer is madness. The Government should overrule them and say it accepts the Food and Drug Administration's findings, and vaccinations for five-to-11-year-olds can start according to the FDA's specification immediately."
A clinical trial of five to 11-year-olds found the Pfizer vaccine was 90.7 percent effective, even with a smaller dose suitable for children. While kids don't fall seriously ill as often as infected adults, it can still be fatal, result in long-term illness and result in a mysterious condition known as MIS-C. They can also act as carriers of the virus and infect others more susceptible to falling gravely ill.
Vaccinated people are about 20 times less likely to pass the virus onto someone else, real-world data has found.
Seymour says beginning the vaccine rollout for young children now would allow time for primary-aged students to get their first dose before schools are slated to return on November 15.
"That would give parents returning their children to school an enormous relief."
University of Otago epidemiologist Michael Baker told Newshub Nation on Friday he'd be "much more comfortable if we were already vaccinating five to 11-year-olds before we open schools".
"I am concerned about not so much the acute effects of this infection because children generally do very well - some will unfortunately will still die if they're exposed to it, but it's very rare in children - but the bigger worry I think is long COVID, the chronic effects, which are being detected in children who get this infection.
"I would much prefer that before children are exposed to this virus, they're at least given the opportunity to be vaccinated."
Dr Baker said he hopes Medsafe would make it a priority to assess the trial data to speed up the process.
Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti, also appearing on Newshub Nation, said officials in the Ministries of Health and Education have been working together to ensure it's safe even without vaccination.
"This is something that we're trying to work on with some haste so we can come up with solutions that are going to be safe for young people."