Parents in Sweden confused over children’s vaccination against COVID
Although COVID vaccination of healthy children is not recommended by experts, the Swedish government confused parents after a minister said there were no legal barriers to vaccinating children, earning criticism from local authorities and doctors.
The COVID-19 vaccine for children was introduced in Sweden in April 2021. At that time, only 16- and 17-year-olds were recommended to get the jab.
Since then, the Swedish Public Health Authority changed its recommendations for the immunisation of children six times. The last time was a year ago when the agency limited the recommendation to children in risk groups.
But even though, until March of this year, childhood immunisation against COVID-19 was recommended in many European countries, the recommendation wasn’t carried over to this year’s fall season.
No country currently recommends immunisation for healthy children, experts from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), an EU agency specialised in infectious diseases, told Euractiv.
Like in Sweden, only children with medical conditions can be vaccinated.
But that didn’t stop parents from getting their children the jab. Since November 2022, parents have been travelling abroad to have their children vaccinated against COVID-19, mainly to Germany, as the Swedish Radio reported.
Legal but not recommended
The Christian Democrat Minister of Social Affairs Jacob Forssmed recently stated that there were no legal barriers for children and adolescents to have the COVID-19 vaccine in Sweden.
“The regions are free to offer this as a service”, he told reporters at a press conference.
This was followed by a swift reaction from the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, known as the SKR.
“It is unfortunate when the state communicates that vaccines should be offered when it is not recommended”, Ameli Norling, head of SKR’s health care section, wrote in her blog, also warning that as a result, children can crowd out vulnerable people who really need the vaccine.
The situation is confusing parents, she added.
Lisa Norén, a general practitioner and spokeswoman for the patient’s group Swedish COVID Association, also told Euractiv that the situation is bewildering.
“We need clarity. Will Swedish children be allowed to get vaccinated, or not?” she asked.
Meanwhile, Norling told Euractiv that regions had not planned to include healthy children in their vaccination campaign for this season.
This was in line with the association’s vaccination agreement with the state, which focuses on immunising risk groups, including people over the age of 65, to protect them from serious illness and death, she said.
The agreement, which also governs the reimbursement of vaccination costs by the state, is expiring at the end of 2023. After that, regions must either bear the cost of vaccinations for 2024 or charge a fee. The vaccine itself will still be paid for by the state.
“We are now considering how to proceed when it comes to vaccinating different groups during 2024, including healthy children,” Norling said.
However, the current regional vaccination plans will run until the end of March of next year. This means that healthy young people may have to wait until spring next year to get their COVID-19 vaccination or the booster.
Growing COVID cases in Sweden
Meanwhile, there is a growing number of COVID-19 cases in Sweden. Since testing is very limited, the levels are estimated through levels of the virus in the sewage water system. And the concentration of the virus is now said to be almost as high as in 2020.
“We, the Swedish Covid Association, have repeatedly highlighted that all recommendations regarding the vaccine need to consider the risk of long COVID and Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). With a new wave of infections and decisions being delayed until spring, we wonder if this has really been taken into consideration?” Lisa Norén said.
But, according to Magnus Gisslén, Sweden’s state epidemiologist at the Public Health Authority, only a few children actually need to be seasonally vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Our recommendation is very clear. We don’t recommend vaccinating healthy children. Healthcare resources must be used where they do the best,” he told Euractiv.
“All our data says that the risk of healthy children becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 is very low, and they have a good immunity protection, either from infection or from previous vaccination.”
Asked about the duration of the protection after an infection or a vaccination, which is said to last only three to six months, Gisslénesaid replied that it “lasts considerably longer, especially after repeated vaccinations and infections”.
“As we get infected repeatedly, this boosts our immunity against COVID-19.”
He also stressed that young people have better immune systems, adding that boys and young men have a lower risk of developing myocarditis as a side effect of the vaccine, which also speaks against vaccinating normally healthy children.
[By Monica Kleja – Edited by Vasiliki Angouridi/Zoran Radosavljevic | Euractiv.com]