JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa has started giving COVID-19 vaccinations to adolescents aged between 12 and 17 years, with a goal of inoculating at least 6 million people from this age group.
The country is trying to increase its rate of vaccinations which is running behind the target of 300,000 daily shots. Currently, South Africa is administering about 185,000 doses per day.
The move is in line with decisions in other countries including Britain, the U.S., Canada, France and Germany, who all began offering COVID-19 vaccines to teens and even younger children months ago. Although adolescents are less likely to suffer severe effects of the coronavirus, many health officials say it's important to vaccinate them to keep schools open and to prevent them from becoming a reservoir for the virus as the adult populations are immunized.
South Africa will be giving just one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the young age group, according to recommendations from the committee which advises the government on its COVID-19 strategy.
Until now, only people 18 years and older could be vaccinated and South Africa has given shots to just over 20.5 million vaccines, with more than 11 million of its total population of 60 million people fully vaccinated with either the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or the two-dose Pfizer vaccine.
While children over 12 years of age may consent to their own medical treatment, the government has advised parents and guardians to accompany the children to vaccination sites.
“It is recommended that parents have open discussions with children about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines to make an informed health choice, and possibly accompany them when they present themselves at vaccination sites," the Department of Health said in a statement.
“Vaccination of young people from the age of 12 years is a global phenomenon of which the parents should not be too concerned about it,” the department said.
Women have also been encouraged to vaccinate at any stage of their pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The country is currently administering the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines.
With more than 2.9 million confirmed infections and over 88,000 deaths reported since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, South Africa has seen the highest number of cases in Africa.