Argentina will start on October 12 vaccinating children aged between 3 and 11 who have other underlying conditions against COVID-19. Local health authorities have chosen the Sinopharm drug for the campaign.
Health Minister Carla Vizzotti made the announcement Monday following meetings with members of the Argentine Society of Pediatrics in addition to a convention involving other health ministers from every other jurisdiction in the country.
Parents and scientific societies had questioned the use of Sinopharm, claiming its approval had been based on studies that were not fully reliable.
Vizzotti also announced that nationwide distribution of additional batches of the Pfizer vaccine was due to commence between Thursday and Friday. The Sinopharm sera will also be shipped to the provinces on these days.
“We take the opportunity to share with the Argentine Society of Pediatrics (SAP) the meeting of the Federal Health Council and the path that was made for the recommendation of the [drug agency] ANMAT about the extension of the age of use of the Sinopharm vaccine for those over three years”, Vizzotti pointed out.
The fundamental step that vaccination implies to advance with adolescents and with boys and girls from three to 11 years was agreed in what their benefit means, she added.
The minister also explained that although the number of new cases was decreasing, the proportion of those under 18 years of age is increasing, because clearly, they are the ones who are still susceptible, they have not yet been immunized.
The SAP had asked “to know the scientific evidence through which ANMAT has authorized vaccination as from 3 years of age. We do not yet have that technical information. We are surely going to meet with the authorities in the next few days to meet her,” SAP president Omar Tabacco had told the media.
Vizzotti also pointed out that “we have the prospect of rapidly scaling up adolescent vaccination this month with the arrival of 6.5 million doses of Pfizer and of being able to advance pediatric vaccination.”
The Federal Health Council (CONFESA) of health ministers nationwide Monday confirmed its “support and trust” to ANMAT, based on Phase 1 and 2 studies published in the journal The Lancet, in addition to contacts with health officials in China and the United Arab Emirates about the phase 3 bridge study, which is confidential at the request of those countries.
Children have been waiting for this vaccine for more than 18 months to be able to approach the schools, because they were still unable to have that presence and they have waited a lot for this moment, Vizzotti insisted.
The CONFESA meeting earlier Monday presided over by Vizzotti, also agreed to hold meetings with the SAP, which took place later in the day and with Unicef's vaccination branch.
The City of Buenos Aires (CABA), which usually does not follow the national government's guidelines to the fullest, was expected to devise a scheme of its own, claiming that the drug used on children in Chile was not Sinopharm, but Sinovac, also of Chinese origin.
Health authorities have also launched calls to apply second doses of Oxford / AstraZeneca after 1,600,000 of them had been received and a similar amount of the second component of Sputnik V produced locally by the Richmond Laboratory had become available.
It is clear at this point that children are not seriously affected by SARS-CoV-2, but they still can spread it even more than the elderly. Hence, vaccination is regarded as a way to stop the virus and protect parents and grandparents, according to health specialists.
After Monday's announcements, over 340,000 children in the province of Buenos Aires had been registered for vaccination by their caregivers, which was believed to be above expectations. Provincial Health Minister Nicolás Kreplak welcomed the news, it was reported. He had previously questioned the SAP: Before raising doubts to society, it is necessary to do a responsible job, because ANMAT's trustworthiness is hanged now in the balance. There are many things that the ordinary doctor does not know but that the authorities know, said Kreplak.
Tabacco had never questioned the Sinopharm vaccine but had nevertheless insisted on having access to studies corroborating ANMAT's assessment. A shipment of 1,144,000 Sinopharm vaccines also arrived Monday at the Ezeiza International Airport
Despite all that consensus, Argentine family heads had also voiced their concern about the swift clearance to the use of Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccine on children between the ages of 3 and 11 and the Argentine Society of Pediatric Infectology had insisted over the weekend in a document signed by its president María Marta Contrini and vice president Gustavo Ezcurra that “it is essential to have the scientific information from Note No 2021-93657144-APN- ANMAT # MS of the National Directorate of Evaluation and Registry of Medicines, and the complementary Technical Report on the Sinopharm vaccine be expanded for its use from 3 years of age.”
Groups of parents were shocked at Friday's announcement, claiming Sinopharm's was “a vaccine that is in phase II in China and the United Arab Emirates. Nothing more. They insisted that the studies in China and the United Arab Emirates are with a population of 800 children,” activist Marcela Matané had told Cadena 3, explaining that her group considered that the hasty approval was politically motivated. These are the same groups that had previously requested the Pfizer vaccine for children under 12 with comorbidities.