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Nearly 2500 children under 5 hospitalised with Covid-19

By Giles Dexter of

The Green Party is calling for the Covid-19 vaccine to be made universally available for children under five, after discovering nearly 2500 were hospitalised for Covid since the early stages of the Omicron outbreak.

A Written Parliamentary Question from the Greens’ Covid-19 Response spokesperson Teanau Tuiono to the minister of health asked “how many children under 5 have been hospitalised due to Covid-19 since February 2022?”

The minister, Dr Ayesha Verrall, replied “As at 24 February 2023, 2458 children under five have been hospitalised due to Covid-19 since February 2022.”

Tuiono told RNZ the numbers were “horrendously high”.

Teanau Tuiono.
Teanau Tuiono. (Source: 1News)

“There needs to be a rethink here. The government needs to get a move on. People might have moved on from Covid, but Covid hasn’t moved on from us, and we need to react and respond accordingly.”

Last month, a version of the Pfizer vaccine containing a lower dose of mRNA was made available for use in children under five who are severely immunocompromised or who have complex/multiple health conditions which would increase the risk of severe disease.

Tuiono said that based on the hospitalisation numbers, there was a strong argument to widen access.

“Something needs to happen. We’re not convinced there’s a case for making this targeted rather than a universally available vaccine, given the extent of hospitalisations of under-fives.”

But the health minister said there were no current plans to broaden the vaccine’s eligibility.

In a statement, Verrall told RNZ the Ministry of Health’s Covid-19 Vaccine Technical Advisory Group [CV TAG] took several factors into account when considering vaccination for the age group, including the high proportion of children under five who had already been exposed to Covid, and consideration of hospitalisation and mortality data.

Ayesha Verrall (file image).
Ayesha Verrall (file image). (Source: Getty)

“Medsafe has concluded at this stage that children aged six months to four years who are not in a risk category have a very low likelihood of severe illness from Covid-19 infection,” Verrall said.

She said the CV TAG “will continue to review information on Covid-19 and Covid-19 vaccines and will make further recommendations if necessary”.

The prime minister said he had not seen the most recent advice on widening access, but availability for under-five-year-olds was broadly in line with other countries New Zealand “compared notes” with.

“We’ll continue to follow that scientific, health-based advice. Vaccination for younger people, there’s always a weighing there, a balance between the risk and the benefits,” Chris Hipkins said.