Some EU Nations Start Vaccinating Kids Ages 5 to 11 as COVID Cases Surge in Some Places

Some countries in the European Union started vaccinating children ages 5-11 against COVID-19 ahead of the holidays as parts of the EU reported a surge in cases over the past couple of months.

Countries across Europe saw a surge of COVID-19 infections for the past two months, but cases slightly declined at the beginning of December.

It's uncertain how long the lower number of reported cases will last as the Omicron variant created a surge of infections in South Africa, according to data from the country.

Greece, Italy, Spain and Hungary are some of the countries that have opened up vaccine eligibility to younger children aged 5-11 as the Omicron variant spreads. The EU approved children ages 5-11 to receive the reduced dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech last month.

Countries in the EU are trying their best to give children a fun and positive experience when getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

A hospital in Italy had acrobats dressed in superhero costumes rappel down the walls to visit different patients. In Greece, children were given stickers and had the day off from school when getting their shot.

Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine for children requires parental approval and is completely voluntary.

"Take advantage of this opportunity. Talk to your pediatrician. Vaccinate your children. Do it for them. Show them how much you love your children by giving them the maximum protection possible," said Dr. Franco Locatelli, the head of Italy's Superior Health Council.

Children, Covid-19 Vaccine, Europe
A child receives a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Explora Children's Museums, as part of vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11, on December 15, 2021, in Rome, Italy. Countries across Europe are expanding their COVID-19 vaccination programs to include younger children, following approval last month by the European medicines regulator. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Locatelli guided the country through its first devastating wave of the pandemic. He urged Italian families to take part in the child vaccine program, hoping to boost the country's already high vaccination rate amid a new spike in infections.

Greece administered its first shots to younger children hours after authorities announced the country's highest daily death toll of the pandemic: 130 people. Among the first to respond was Greek Education Minister Niki Kerameus.

"I won't hide the fact that on a personal level, after having talked with doctors and receiving scientific data, our family decided to vaccinate our son, who is 5 1/2 years old," Kerameus said before taking her son, Loukas, to get his shot at an Athens hospital.

Elisabetta Valente, who works as a doctor in Rome, brought her 5- and 9-year-old to a museum hosting a vaccination center for children.

"I am a pediatrician, and I work in intensive care units," Valente said. "When you see what happens to those who choose not to get the vaccine, it makes you think, 'What if they had made a different choice?'"

A top EU official said Wednesday that the bloc expects Omicron to dominate infections in the EU by mid-January. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control suggested that governments consider travel-related restrictions and press ahead with vaccination campaigns and booster shots.

Authorities in Spain have set an ambitious target for vaccinating younger children before the customary family gatherings at Christmas. Nearly 90 percent of the country's residents 12 and older have received two vaccine doses.

"I'm encouraged to see so many parents with their children here," Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said, visiting a school in a central Spanish town of Toledo where shots were being given on Wednesday. A 40-second video ad by the Spanish Health Ministry featured child actors saying: "It's our turn. Our vaccines are finally here! Grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, uncles and aunts and our teacher have already been vaccinated."

Poland, Portugal, Croatia and Slovenia plan to lower their vaccine eligibility age later this week.

Several hundred people protested Wednesday in front of the government headquarters in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. The protesters chanted "Don't kill our kids!" and "We won't give you our children!"

The World Health Organization says more evidence is needed on COVID-19 vaccines in children for it to make general recommendations about their use in kids. It also says vaccines generally should be reserved for those who are the most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 disease, which includes the elderly, people with weaker immune systems, and health care workers.

Some EU nations are taking a more cautious approach to vaccinating younger children. Germany has started a region-based rollout, the Netherlands is waiting until after the holidays and France is prioritizing children who suffer from heart and respiratory problems, obesity, and diabetes.

Britain was slower than many European countries to start vaccinating children ages 12-15, and it has not yet approved vaccines for younger children. Wei Shen Lim, a member of the U.K.'s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, said the group expected to make a decision before Christmas but was awaiting a recommendation from British regulators.

Conservative lawmaker Jeremy Hunt, a former health minister, criticized the delay on approving vaccines for younger children.

"Our regulators, having been the nimblest in the world, are now taking too long," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Acrobats, Superheroes, Children, Covid-19 Vaccine, Europe
Acrobats dressed as superheroes rappel down from the roofs to make a surprise greeting at the windows of the rooms of the little patients in pediatrics and of all the patients at the San Paolo hospital in Milan, Italy, December 15, 2021. The stunts were coordinated to promote the child COVID vaccine. Luca Bruno/AP Photo