China has launched a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign for minors aged three to 11, in a bid to increase mass vaccine coverage and accelerate the building of herd immunity, as a new rebound in cases hits almost one-third of the country and becomes one of the worst since the initial outbreak in 2020.
A number of regions launched the campaign over the week, including Hubei, Hunan, Hainan and Zhejiang provinces, according to the official websites of provincial health commissions. East China's Fujian and Anhui provinces also announced plans for the inoculation of children in the upcoming days.
Staff at Changliu Central Health Hospital in Haikou, South China's Hainan Province, confirmed to the Global Times on Tuesday that the hospital now accepts children aged three to 11 to come to the hospital for COVID-19 vaccine inoculations with their parents.
Staff at a vaccination site at a local community health service center in Quzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, told the Global Times that schools will send students in different groups to the vaccination sites. So far vaccination sites open for adolescents are very limited.
According to notices issued by provincial health commissions, children of this age group will receive two shots of vaccines produced by China's Sinopharm and Sinovac, with the shots taken at least three weeks apart.
Experts said it is necessary to speed up the vaccination drive for children in this age group both to protect them in densely populated school campuses and protect those around them, especially seniors, as winter approaches and another spike of coronavirus cases rapidly sweeps across the country.
Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based medical expert on vaccines, told the Global Times on Tuesday that children are especially recommended to get COVID-19 shots as they tend to become infection sources in households. Although minors tend to develop only mild symptoms, vaccinating them can prevent them from carrying the virus and causing new cluster infections.
In addition, epidemic transmission is prone to happen in densely populated schools, which means minors are exposed to places with much higher infection risks, experts noted. The cluster infection in East China's Fujian Province in September was first detected at an elementary school and then spread to multiple schools, families and workplaces, with over 40 percent of confirmed cases in minors under 12 years old, said experts with disease control authorities.
In response to concerns over the safety of vaccines for minors, Tao assured that inactivated vaccines are very safe for children and have been widely used among young population groups.
He added that compared with the inactivated vaccines, the recombinant protein vaccines to be rolled out in the near future would be even better for infants and very young children, as the recombinant protein vaccines fall into the same category as the Hepatitis B vaccine, which infants get within 24 hours after birth.
China has administered over 2.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with people completing the full course of vaccination reaching over 1 billion, the National Health Commission showed.
In July, China launched the vaccination campaign for those aged 12-17, of whom over 91 percent have completed two doses, said a notice from China's Ministry of Education in late September.