Kids Don't Need COVID Vaccine to Go Back to School, Give Shots to Adults Instead: WHO Expert

The top vaccines expert at the World Health Organization (WHO) said children do not need a COVID-19 vaccine to return to school during a social media session on Thursday.

Dr. Kate O'Brien said children should not be a focus when considering the administration of doses, even as rich countries are beginning to authorize the use of vaccines for children and teenagers.

On May 14, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke during a digital conference, and urged wealthier countries to refrain from vaccinating children and adolescents, instead donating the unused vaccines to lower income countries, the BBC reported.

"In low and lower-middle income countries, COVID-19 vaccine supply has not been enough to even immunize healthcare workers, and hospitals are being inundated with people that need lifesaving care urgently," he said.

O'Brien said WHO does not consider immunizing children against COVID-19 to be of high priority at the moment, as there is a global vaccine shortage and adults in other countries desperately need the vaccine more than children who are at a lower risk.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

World Health Organization logo
A picture taken on May 8, 2021 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at the entrance of their headquarters in Geneva amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. WHO's top vaccines expert said vaccinating children is not a high priority at the moment with a global vaccine shortage. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

"Children are at (a) very, very low risk of actually getting COVID disease," said O'Brien, a pediatrician and director of the WHO's vaccines department. She said that the rationale for immunizing children was to stop transmission rather than to protect them from getting sick or dying.

"When we're in this really difficult place, as we are right now, where the supply of vaccine is insufficient for everybody around the world, immunizing kids is not a high priority right now."

O'Brien said it was critical to ensure health workers and the elderly, or those with underlying conditions, were inoculated ahead of teenagers and children.

Canada, the U.S. and the European Union have all recently given the green light to some COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 12 to 15 as they approach their vaccination targets for adults.

Fewer than 1 percent of COVID-19 vaccines administered globally have been used in poor countries.

O'Brien said it might be appropriate to immunize children against the coronavirus "in due course, when the supply increases much more substantially." She added that it wasn't necessary to vaccinate children before sending them back to school, as long as the adults in contact with them were immunized.

"Immunization of children in order to send them back to school is not the predominant requirement for them to go back to school safely," she said. "They can go back to school safely if what we're doing is immunizing those who are around them who are at risk."

WHO vaccinations
In this May 19, 2021 file photo, Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses are prepared for members of the community 12 years and up, at a clinic held by Community of Hope, outside the Washington School for Girls in southeast Washington. The World Health Organization’s top vaccines expert says immunizing children against the coronavirus “is not a high priority” given the extremely limited global supply of doses. During a social media session on Thursday, June 3, Dr. Kate O’Brien said vaccinating children “is not a priority from a WHO perspective,” even as increasing numbers of rich countries authorize their COVID-19 shots for teenagers and children. Jacquelyn Martin, File/AP Photo