Vaccination campaigns for younger children have begun in a handful of European Union countries in an attempt to balance keeping schools open, the looming holiday period and the spreading Omicron mutation.
Children aged between 5 and 11 lined up at schools and medical centres to receive a dose in Germany, Spain, Greece, Italy and Hungary on Wednesday.
In Berlin, 10-year-old Stella and her mother Corinna visited a vaccination centre as the country’s fourth Covid-19 wave hits.
At a school in Castellon de la Plana, Spain, children there were among the first in the country to receive the jab.
In Athens, a children’s hospital administered its first shots hours after national authorities announced Greece’s highest number of daily deaths during the pandemic, at 130. Children were given stickers and the day off school.
More than 30,000 vaccination appointments for under-12s have been booked by Greek parents, including mother and 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,” Ms Kerameus said, before taking her five-year-old, Loukas, to get his shot at an Athens hospital.
Italy and Hungary also expanded their vaccination programmes to include younger children.
EU regulators last month approved a reduced-dose vaccine made by Pfizer-BioNTech for use in the 5-11 age group.
A two-month surge in infections across Europe eased slightly in early December, but the appearance of the Omicron variant has created uncertainty. Scientists believe Omicron is highly contagious, but they are not sure yet how dangerous it is.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said on Tuesday that it expects Omicron to dominate infections in the EU over the next few months. It suggested that governments should consider travel-related restrictions and press ahead with vaccination campaigns and booster shot delivery.
Poland, Portugal, Croatia and Slovenia plan to lower their vaccine eligibility age later in the week.