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Children in the 5 to 14 age group now account for the highest rates of reported COVID-19 infection in Europe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported on Tuesday (local time).
WHO Europe regional director Dr Hans Kluge urged countries to protect children and schools amid a rapid rise in cases among young people in the region.
Children enjoy a carousel ride at a Christmas fair in Bucharest, Romania.Credit:AP
He said that in some areas of Europe, the incidence of COVID-19 was two to three times higher among young children than the average population.
Children in general face less severe COVID symptoms than vulnerable populations like older people, healthcare workers and people with weaker immune systems.
“As school holidays approach, we must also acknowledge that children contaminate their parents and grandparents at home, with a 10 times increased risk for these adults to develop severe disease, be hospitalised or die when non-vaccinated,” Kluge said.
“The health risks extend beyond the children themselves.”
A patient arrives at the intensive care unit of a hospital in Nuremberg, Germany.Credit:Getty Images
Kluge’s comment coincided with Spain’s health ministry giving the go-ahead on Tuesday for children aged 5 to 11 to be vaccinated.
The rollout is due to begin on December 15, two days after the first of 3.2 million child vaccines arrive in Spain.
Austria has been inoculating children since the European Union’s drug regulator on November 25 authorised Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for use on that age group. Greece will also begin on December 15 and Italy will start on December 16. France will likely follow suit after final regulatory signoff there.
Kluge also argued on Tuesday that vaccine mandates should be “an absolute last resort,” and said that COVID-19 deaths remain “significantly below previous peaks.”
Even so, he said coronavirus cases and deaths had more than doubled in the last two months in WHO’s 53-country European region, which stretches to central Asia.
“The Delta variant remains dominant across Europe and Central Asia, and we know that the COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in reducing severe disease and deaths from it,” he said.
“It is yet to be seen how and whether the latest COVID-19 variant of concern, Omicron, will be more transmissible, or more or less severe.”
Kluge also spoke out against vaccination mandates, saying they should be an “absolute last resort” and have efficacy only in some contexts.
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