The Department of Health on Friday announced that children aged 12 to 17 years old are next in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine from next week.

“We are now ready to start vaccinations for this group of young people from the age of 12 to 17 years,” said Health Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, during a media briefing on the national vaccination rollout programme.

He told journalists that this follows a recommendation received from the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19 Vaccines this week.

“This recommendation was also supported by Health MECs when we met on Tuesday afternoon during our statutory National Health Council,” he explained, adding that the decision was also backed by Cabinet on Wednesday.

The department said it will distribute the jabs from 20 October 2021 to allow necessary preparation on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) registration system and other logistical preparations.

“We believe that this will come in handy as schools start their examinations, while some of them already advanced towards concluding the academic year and studying to prepare for the next academic year of 2022.”

However, according to the Minister, MAC has advised that a single dose of the Pfizer jab should be administered for now, as approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

The MAC recommended the delay of administering the second dose due to concerns about rare cases of myocarditis – heart muscle inflammation, with a few cases reported across the globe after a second dose.

“The MAC has advised that while this is being monitored all over the world at this stage, there has been no indication that the first dose has any serious side effects. So for now, it will be just one dose while the studies are continuing,” he said.

“We believe that it will still offer significant protection, and once more information comes, we can space the second dose for the young people.”

In South Africa, adults receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

The Minister has assured parents and teenagers that even when these cases have been reported, they had no permanent risk.

“So we’re just taking precaution in this case,” he stressed.

According to the Department of Health’s Acting Director-General, Dr Nicholas Crisp, there are about six million youngsters in the secondary school cohort.

“It would be good to get hold of at least half of those children before the school holidays.”

While the department said it was ready to go ahead with the rolling out of the vaccine to this age group, he said the EVDS still needs to be tweaked to allow children’s consent and the notification of any different side effects that may be available.

“It’s our intention for children to be vaccinated from Wednesday next week. That should give a few days for those that are writing [exams] to be vaccinated and have a couple of days to get over any mild side-effects that they may experience.”

According to Crisp, the system will be tested Monday and Tuesday, while registration is expected to be opened on the same day of rolling out of the vaccine on Wednesday.

He said children will be vaccinated at all public and private vaccination sites, the same as everybody else. –

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