The city of Vienna will help vaccinate children as young as 5 against Covid, without official approval from the E.U., officials announced on Thursday.
“Demand for Covid vaccinations for children is high,” said Peter Hacker, a Viennese public health official. “In this phase of the pandemic, we must not lose any time in Austria, because the pandemic is getting younger and younger,” he added.
Under the city proposal, pediatricians will authorize administering the off-label use of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine for children starting Friday, Nov. 12.
E.U. regulators have not yet to authorized any Covid vaccine for children below age 12. Austria, along with the rest of the European Union, is waiting for a decision by the European Medicines Agency, which started the process of approving the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine for ages 5 to 11 on Oct. 18. A decision is expected in the coming months. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention formally endorsed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children of those ages on Tuesday.
While private doctors have been giving the vaccine to children in several European countries, including Austria, this appears to be the first systematic inoculation program for children organized by a government body.
In Vienna, up to 200 children will be able to get vaccinated each day in 34 city-run vaccination centers, according to a municipal spokesman, who added that the city was prepared to expand capacity if demand proved high. Vienna is also still looking for licensed pediatricians to administer the doses at the centers.
The decision comes as Austria is going through another spike of infections. The country has reported around 481 cases per 100,000 people over the past week, according to government figures — more than double the case rate in neighboring Germany. In Vienna, which has a population of 1.9 million, 1,479 new cases were reported by the Austrian government on Wednesday.
Only 63 percent of Austrians are fully vaccinated, according to government figures collated by the Our World in Data project.
City officials in Vienna also said they would tighten Covid restrictions starting Nov. 12, by prohibiting people without proof of vaccination or recovery from infection from visiting restaurants, bars, museums and certain shops, like hair salons.