High demand as Vienna rolls out off-label Covid vaccines for children under 12

A child receives a vaccine for Covid-19
Vaccinations for children between the ages of five and 12 have been approved in the Austrian capital of Vienna. Photo: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP
Vienna has seen a surge in interest from parents wanting to vaccinate their children against Covid, with vaccination rolled out for children between five and 12 from Monday.

Children between the ages of five and 12 became eligible for a vaccine against Covid from Monday, November 15th, due to high demand from parents despite the vaccine still awaiting formal approval for this age group from the European Medicines Agency.

Registration opened on Saturday. As of Sunday evening, more than 9,000 children were booked in for a jab, and by midday on Monday the appointments had been fully booked.

Mayor Michael Ludwig said at a press conference that while all available appointments have been taken, more will be made available soon. He added that demand for the vaccine had come not only from the capital, but from across Austria and even abroad.

As it stands, only 200 children per day can be vaccinated in Vienna’s Austria Centre, although capacity will be expanded if demand persists, Ludwig said.

While the European Medicines Agency has not approved the Covid vaccination for children, Austrian Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said he expects approval on November 24th. 

Up until now, parents wanting to vaccinate their kids against Covid needed a doctor to offer the vaccination.

Around 1,000 children were vaccinated in Vienna before approval was granted, with parents from neighbouring countries reportedly visiting Austria in order to have their children vaccinated. 

How do the vaccinations work?

While vaccinations for children have not been approved at a European level, Vienna authorities pointed to data from abroad showing the vaccinations were safe. 

The vaccinations are carried out with the Biontech/Pfizer jab. 

Children are injected with a smaller amount of the vaccine, with the doctor deciding the dose on the basis of the weight and fitness level of the child. 

How do parents feel? 

The rush to book appointments shows that parents are enthusiastic about their children getting the jab, particularly amid a resurgence of the virus in October and November. 

“I am ready and believe there is enough reason to have my daughter vaccinated, ahead of an official EU ruling,” James Ellis, a parent and teacher in Vienna, told The Local. 

“I think this because of the low number of adults vaccinated here in Austria and because the research from the U.S.A. shows it’s safe. That combination will mean I’ll seek out a chance to have her vaccinated now.”

Another parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and her partner had decided to get their children under 12 vaccinated after speaking to friends who work with Covid patients in hospital.

“One of us works in a situation where protecting themselves is quite difficult, and one of our children also has a medical issue which means that a Covid infection could be very dangerous indeed for them,” she told The Local. 

She added, “we will also continue our routine of four times weekly PCR testing” to further reduce the risk of catching and spreading the virus

What does off-label mean?

The term “off label” means that a vaccine is used in a slightly different way than described in its licence. On the case of the Covid-19 vaccine, this means the licence issued by the European Medicines Agency.

Vaccines are usually used “off-label” when there is sufficient information to suggest they can be used in this way (a helpful guide on what the term means is available from the UK’s National Health Service); in this case, data comes partly from the use of the vaccine in children under 12 from countries like the USA, and also from the clinical trials carried out by Pfizer. 

Another example of an off-label Covid vaccination would be if someone was given a different vaccine than the one they received for their first dose, for example if they had an allergic reaction to their first dose.

Parents can register their children for the Covid vaccine in Vienna here, providing appointments are available. 


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