An immunologist is encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated against Covid-19 with the rollout for them likely to begin early next year.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Wednesday the vaccine rollout for children aged 5-11 was expected to begin in late January.
The paediatric vaccine, which equates to around a third of the adult dose, is still awaiting Medsafe approval, but the Government is expecting to hear its recommendations by mid-to-late December.
Professor Graham Le Gros, director of the Malaghan Institute and the programme director for Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa, has welcomed the news, although he wants the rollout to be sooner than late January.
He told Breakfast it was "very reassuring" the paediatric vaccine had been shown to be safe.
After evaluating a study of the vaccine in more than 2000 children, the European Medical Agency estimated that the vaccine was about 90 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in young children and said the most common side effects were pain at the injection site, headaches, muscle pain and chills.
The agency said the two-dose regimen should be given to children three weeks apart.
"We're in a very good situation to move forward here," Le Gros remarked of the data.
"I can assure people what we’ve seen so far is the vaccine is very safe and you don’t want your kids to have the virus. We know there’s a lot of worried parents out there ... but they don’t want to have their kids off school for a year with long Covid, things like that. They don’t want a virus growing in their kids heart with unknown, long-term consequences."
Le Gros explained that while children are "blessed" with having less receptors for the virus than adults, some can still get sick and suffer from long Covid.
He said: "Vaccine is better than virus."
"This virus, it doesn’t matter who you are or how old or young, it will grow in your heart, grow in your brain, grow in blood vessels, you don’t want that.
"We never let viruses grow in our bodies that way and the vaccine is the only way to prevent this. It’s the only thing we have right now. Of course we want better vaccines, but at the moment, this is what we have and you’re better off than getting the virus."
Describing himself as "old school", Le Gros felt the rollout could be done at schools, with children lining up to get a jab in the arm.
Hipkins did say on Wednesday the Government would take a "whānau-based" approach to administering the vaccines, with health officials to continue working with iwi, DHBs, local providers and communities.
Officials would also work with the Ministry of Education, schools and early childhood centres to identify whether other locations could be used to administer the vaccines than those that currently exist.
However, some in the education sector have said having the rollout at the end of January will not give schools much time to prepare.
The US and EU have recently approved the vaccine for use on 5-11 year olds.