Fifteen Brazilian children received the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, marking the start of a campaign that was delayed several weeks due to the federal government’s reluctance to approve childhood immunization.

On December 16, the country’s health regulatory agency approved the administration of Pfizer’s vaccine to children between 5 and 11 years old. The decision outraged Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who has since complained about pediatric vaccination and has said he will not let his 11-year-old daughter receive the vaccine, warning of possible side effects.

A study published in late December by US health authorities found that serious side effects from the Pfizer vaccine in children ages 5 to 11 are rare. The results were based on about 8 million doses given to individuals in that age group.

Instead of following the guidelines of the regulators, the Ministry of Health of the Bolsonaro government published an online survey asking citizens if children should have a medical recommendation to receive the vaccine.

Some of the president’s supporters, who are also hesitant about vaccines, ran a social media campaign to get people to vote against childhood immunization.

Despite this, the majority of the almost 100,000 participants in the survey opposed the need for medical prescription and the Ministry of Health announced last week the authorization to vaccinate children.

An 8-year-old boy from the Xavante indigenous group was the first to receive the vaccine in a ceremony held at the Hospital das Clínicas, in Sao Paulo, a day after 1.2 million doses destined for minors arrived at the state airport. .

The boy is being treated in São Paulo for a genetic disease that requires him to wear braces on his legs. His father, Jurandir Siridiwe, a tribal leader, saw his son’s immunization broadcast online.

“If we had started immediately after Anvisa (the country’s health regulatory agency) approved Pfizer’s vaccine for children of this age in December, today all children in Brazil would have been vaccinated with at least one dose,” he said during the event the governor of São Paulo, João Doria.

The Ministry of Health recommended an eight-week window between the first and second doses of Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine, instead of the three weeks recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the state of Sao Paulo, that means children who are scheduled to return to face-to-face classes in public schools on February 2 will do so before receiving a second dose.

Although children are less likely than adults to suffer serious illness or die from COVID-19, advocates say vaccinating children can minimize the spread of the virus in their families and in society at large.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said Thursday that the highly transmissible omicron variant has become the dominant strain in Brazil.

As of Friday afternoon, only six of the 27 Brazilian states had received vaccinations for children. The press office of the Ministry of Health attributed the problem to logistical difficulties, telling The Associated Press that the doses will be delivered to the rest of the states over the weekend. Most of them will start vaccinating children from Monday.

Brazil has some 20 million children between the ages of 5 and 11, according to the ministry.

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