Photographers take pictures of a child receiving a Covid-19 vaccine in Chile. (AP)

Photographers take pictures of a child receiving a COVID-19 vaccine in Chile. (AP)

Are the Kids All Right? A Look at Vaccine Age Eligibility in Latin America

By Chase Harrison

Many countries are vaccinating people 12 and up. In Brazil and Mexico, however, age eligibility lines have been less clear.

This article was originally published on September 29 and has since been updated. 

On September 28, parents of kids in U.S. elementary schools got some pandemic-era comfort: Pfizer submitted data efficacy information for a coronavirus vaccine covering children ages 5 to 11. That brings the company a step closer to seeking emergency authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The United States isn’t alone. With many Latin American countries nearing or exceeding 50 percent of their populations fully vaccinated, attention is turning to getting shots to young people. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 23 percent of the population is under 14, and about 20 percent is between 15 and 29. This means that to reach herd immunity—70 percent of a total population, according to the World Health Organization—countries will need to undergo large-scale youth vaccination efforts, especially as asymptomatic or less symptomatic young people are believed to be a major vector in the spread of the disease.  

That’s already started in much of Latin America. Countries with strong vaccination campaigns, such as the Dominican Republic, Panama, and Uruguay, began vaccinating those 12 and up in June and July. Chile is down to age 6, while Cuba is vaccinating children as young as 2—the lowest age in the world. Meanwhile, Latin American giants Brazil and Mexico, which together account for more than half of the region’s population, have struggled to open up vaccination to citizens over age 11.

Pfizer, which is currently authorized for emergency use by the FDA for those 12 and up, is a top vaccine being distributed to children throughout the Western Hemisphere, including in at least a dozen countries in Latin America. But it’s far from the only shot kids are getting. AS/COA Online charts eligibility ages and vaccine usage in the region and also delves into youth vaccination policy in the region’s two largest economies.

Across Latin America
 
Brazil

Anvisa, Brazil’s health regulator, approved the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 through 17 in June. The Health Ministry set September 15 as the date vaccinations would begin, but many states began to inoculate either children with or without comorbidities at the end of August and beginning of September. In São Paulo state, for example, officials reported that 72 percent of those aged 12 to 17 received their first shot by September 15. In these states, 24,000 children were given vaccines other than Pfizer. Throughout the pandemic in Brazil, governors have developed state vaccination plans independent of the federal government.

On September 16, Anvisa announced that only 12- to 17-year-olds with comorbidities would be eligible for the vaccine. This was prompted by the death of a 16-year-old in São Paulo who had recently received the Pfizer shot. In response, some but not all states paused their vaccination of children. On September 22, Anvisa announced the death was unrelated to the vaccine and that youth vaccinations could resume. The government encourages states to prioritize those with comorbidities.

Brazil has accelerated its vaccination campaign over the summer after a slow start. At the start of July, about 12.6 percent of Brazilians were fully vaccinated. As of September 24, 39.8 percent of citizens were fully vaccinated. Still, 29.5 percent are only partially vaccinated—one of the region’s highest percentages of individuals waiting on a second dose.

Mexico

In Mexico the issue of whether to vaccinate children has parents taking legal action. With schools finally reopening in much of the country on August 30—even as Mexico found itself in the throes of a third coronavirus wave—President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said government experts didn’t believe it was medically necessary to vaccinate children against the virus, despite the fact that Mexico’s health regulator, Cofepris, approved Pfizer for those 12 and up in late June. His government has kept vaccinations solely to adults 18 and older.

In response, parents in 19 of Mexico’s 32 states filed more than 262 injunctions for their children with comorbidities to receive the vaccine. Several of these injunctions were accepted, permitting a small number of children to be vaccinated in August and September. In early September, a 12-year-old diabetic girl recorded a video message that went viral directed at Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell, the official charged with Mexico’s pandemic health policies, about her experience not having received the vaccine despite having a federal court order.

On September 3, López Obrador said there would be an investigation into the injunctions and suggested that the pharmaceutical industry may be behind them. For his part, López-Gatell said that every child getting a vaccine through an injunction was taking away the opportunity from an adult to get a shot. But, by September 13, López-Gatell backtracked somewhat when he told Mexican outlet La Jornada that one million children between 12 and 17 years old with risk factors will be eligible for vaccination in October.

On September 3, López Obrador said there would be an investigation into the injunctions and suggested that the pharmaceutical industry may be behind them. For his part, López-Gatell said that every child getting a vaccine through an injunction was taking away the opportunity from an adult to get a shot. But, by September 13, López-Gatell backtracked somewhat when he told Mexican outlet La Jornada that one million children between 12 and 17 years old with risk factors will be eligible for vaccination in October.

While healthy children 12 to 17 are still ineligible for vaccination nationally, border workers’ children in the states of Coahuila and Nuevo León have been bused to the United States to receive vaccines as part of Mexico’s special border vaccination strategy. Mexico was the first Latin American country to get a coronavirus shot in an arm back in December 2020, but other countries in the region have since outpaced its vaccination rate. As of September 24, 34 percent of Mexico’s total population was fully immunized.

Hope Wilkinson contributed to this article.