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BioNTech eyes COVID-19 vaccine for 12-15 year olds from June in EU

The German firm's CEO Ugur Sahin told Der Spiegel weekly that it was "in the final stretches" of preparing its submission for European regulatory approval.

April 29, 2021 / 05:27 PM IST
(Image: Reuters)

(Image: Reuters)

BioNTech said Thursday that it expected its COVID-19 vaccine, jointly developed with Pfizer, to be available to 12 to 15-year-olds in Europe from June.

The German firm's CEO Ugur Sahin told Der Spiegel weekly that it was "in the final stretches" of preparing its submission for European regulatory approval.

The evaluation of the trial data "takes four to six weeks on average", he added.

Vaccinating children is seen as a crucial next step toward herd immunity and ending the pandemic.

The prospect of getting older children inoculated before the next school year starts would also relieve the strain on parents who are juggling the demands of homeschooling while keeping up with jobs.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"It's very important to enable children a return to their normal school lives and allow them to meet with family and friends," Sahin told Spiegel.

Separately, German Health Minister Jens Spahn also voiced confidence that teens would be able to get their jabs in coming months.

"During the summer holidays at the latest, we will be able to vaccinate over 12-year-olds once the authorisation is there," he said.

Germany's 16 states stagger their summer holidays, with the first regions to go on their break from June 21 this year, and the last to end their vacation on September 13.

BioNTech/Pfizer already applied for emergency US authorisation of their jab for 12 to 15-year-olds earlier this month.

Sahin expects to submit a similar request to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) next Wednesday, he told Spiegel.

The move comes after BioNTech and Pfizer in late March announced that phase 3 clinical trials of their vaccine for children aged 12-15 showed it was 100 percent effective in warding off the disease.

Both companies are also racing to get the jab approved for younger children, from six months upwards.

"In July, the first results for five to 12-year-olds could be available, and those for younger children in September," he said.

Ongoing trials so far are "very encouraging", Sahin said, suggesting that "children are very well protected by the vaccine".

The BioNTech/Pfizer shot is based on novel mRNA technology and was the first COVID-19 jab to be approved in the West late last year.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.
AFP

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