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German panel suggests COVID shot only for at-risk children

Syringes with children's doses of Comirnaty, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 are seen at a practice of a children's doctor in Bonn, Germany, Dec 15, 2021. (WOLFGANG RATTAY / REUTERS)

FRANKFURT / MOSCOW / LONDON – Germany's vaccine advisory panel on Thursday recommended that Pfizer-BioNTech's, COVID-19 vaccine for children from six months to four years should only be given routinely to those at risk of severe disease from the infection.

The head of the panel of 18 appointees, known as STIKO, said there was no clear case for broad use, citing a lack of data to rule out any rare side effects and no signs of the infection causing severe illness in otherwise healthy children.

The recommendation also covers a version of Moderna's Spikevax vaccine for the age group but that product is in short supply in Germany at the moment, the expert panel said.

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"Everything that is done in medicine should have an indication that is as clear as possible," STIKO president Thomas Mertens told journalists in a call.

European regulators in October authorized a low-dose version of Pfizer-BioNTech's first-generation vaccine for children from six months to four years, when given as a three-dose series.

STIKO, which is widely followed by physicians in Germany, added that vaccination was not called for to prevent young children from passing the virus on to other vulnerable people among family and friends.

Parents seeking a shot for their children for that reason could do so after consulting their pediatrician, but a shot would not provide sufficient protections for a child's contacts against infection with the prevailing Omicron variant.

"When there are parents that absolutely want the vaccine for their healthy children, there are no legal reason for physicians to deny them that," said STIKO's Terhardt.

STIKO also reaffirmed a recommendation it issued in May for five- to 11-year-olds, saying one COVID-19 shot was enough for healthy youngsters in that age group because most of them had already had an infection.

That contrasts with European Union regulators' approval for a two-shot regimen in that age group.

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Only slightly more than 22 percent of five- to 11-year-old children in Germany have so far received at least one COVID shot.

People queue to get tested for COVID-19 after the Christmas holiday break at Doce de Octubre Hospital in Madrid, Spain, Dec 27, 2021. (JAVIER BARBANCHO / REUTERS)

STIKO, which has routinely taken a cautious approach to recommending COVID-19 vaccines, said it was time for all parents to embrace the vaccination opportunity for their children.

"We wish those numbers were better," said STIKO member Martin Terhardt.

Germany's federal infectious disease body, the Robert Koch institute, in July unveiled plans for STIKO to be expanded to include more experts on pandemics, following controversy over the speed of the recommendations the panel has given during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Russia

Russia has registered 5,680 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 21,520,021, said the official monitoring and response center on Thursday.

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The center said the nationwide death toll increased by 61 to 391,273, while the number of recoveries grew by 6,735 to 20,925,972.

Meanwhile, Moscow reported 1,073 new cases, taking its total to 3,244,277.

Superbugs infections doubled 

Infections from some antibiotic-resistant pathogens known as superbugs have more than doubled in health care facilities in Europe, an EU agency said on Thursday, providing further evidence of the wider impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control report said reported cases of two highly drug-resistant pathogens increased in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, then sharply jumped in 2021.

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The surge stemmed from outbreaks in intensive care units of hospitals and in European Union countries where antimicrobial-resistant infections were already widespread, ECDC official Dominique Monnet told a news conference.

People wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 ride a subway in Paris, June 30, 2022. (MICHEL EULER / AP)

Data showed that in Europe last year, reported cases of the Acinetobacter bacteria group more than doubled compared with pre-pandemic annual numbers. Cases of another bacteria, Klebsiella pneumoniae, which is resistant to last-resort antibiotics, jumped by 31 percent in 2020 and by 20 percent in 2021.

The report did not include data on how many people died from the infections in 2020 and 2021. Experts say it can be challenging to definitively attribute the cause of death when patients were hospitalized for COVID-19, for example.

Some scientists link the rise in hospital-acquired superbug infections during the pandemic to wider antibiotic prescriptions to treat COVID-19 and other bacterial infections during long hospital stays.

Monnet said that was "the most plausible hypothesis", but his agency had yet to conduct thorough analysis.

He also said the data showed decreases in cases of some other common superbugs in European hospitals. The ECDC believes that is because the COVID crisis led operations to be postponed.

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The European report is consistent with a trend noted last year in the United States, where government data showed that US deaths from drug-resistant infections jumped 15 percent in 2020.

Drug-resistance evolves through the misuse or overuse of antibiotics.

Concerns about it are not new. Experts call superbug infections, including fungal pathogens, a silent pandemic that causes more than a million deaths annually but does not draw attendant focus or funding for research.