Brazil has added the COVID-19 vaccine to the country’s National Immunization Program (PNI) for children aged 6 months to 5 years old.

The country’s ministry of health is also considering establishing school vaccination centers with strict reporting requirements.

The new policy will take effect in 2024 accoding to a report by Agência Brasil

It comes despite growing opposition among Brazilians and testimony by experts highlighting concerns about the safety of the Covid jabs for children as well as the increased incidences of myocarditis, pericarditis and other conditions among young people who have had the vaccine.

The Defender reports: Despite these concerns, which were addressed in a recent hearing before Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies and by several opposition lawmakers, Brazilian Minister of Health Nísia Trindade defended the new policy, while the Brazilian government said families of unvaccinated children will not receive support from the Bolsa Família welfare program.

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for young children, a bill under consideration by the Brazilian Senate would establish vaccination centers in the country’s schools.

According to Brasil 61, the PNI will require three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The first two doses will be administered four weeks apart, while the third dose will be administered eight weeks after the second dose.

Brazilian newspaper O Dia reported that the COVID-19 vaccines that will be available to children include Pfizer’s pediatric formulation for children 6 months to 5 years of age and the Chinese-made CoronaVac (Sinovac) vaccine.

The decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for young children “was taken based on global scientific evidence and epidemiological data of cases and deaths from the disease in the country,” O Dia reported.

According to O Globo, Trindade cited an increase in cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) among children in Brazil as a factor that led to the new policy.

Trindade said over 3,000 cases of SARS were identified in children under age 1, and more than 1,000 cases were reported in children ages 1-4.

“The [Health] Ministry also explained that it follows the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), which in March of this year recommended that immunization be a priority for the high-risk population, such as people with significant comorbidities, including children 6 months or older,” O Dia reported.

According to CNN Brasil, the COVID-19 vaccine also will be prioritized for other “high-risk” groups, including the elderly, immunocompromised, the permanently disabled, pregnant and postpartum women, health workers, those with comorbidities, Indigenous peoples, residents of long-term care facilities, the homeless, the incarcerated and prison staff.

“In Brazil, we have slightly expanded the group compared to WHO’s recommendations, which are more limited,” said Ethel Maciel, secretary of health surveillance for the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

Health officials claim young kids are ‘at risk’

The Brazilian government and several Brazilian media outlets cited a high number of COVID-19-related deaths among children in the country as a justification for the measure, and the fact that, according to Maciel, “more than 60 countries” have already authorized the vaccination of children from the end of 2021.

“We already have very robust evidence that indicates the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine,” Maciel said. “In Brazil, we had 4,000 people dying every day from COVID-19. Today, we have 42. This is the greatest evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

O Globo reported that “In 2022, Brazil recorded one death per day among children aged 6 months to 5 years due to COVID-19.”

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Francisco Cardoso told The Defender, “The Brazilian government’s proposal is to include, as mandatory, annual vaccination for COVID-19 in the age group from 6 months to 5 years of age, claiming that they are at-risk groups.”

“The addition of this rule to the PNI calendar makes this rule mandatory, except only in cases of medical certificates with express contraindication,” Cardoso said.

Other experts who spoke with The Defender questioned the new policy.

Dr. Pierre Kory, president and chief medical officer of the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, said, “There is no medical justification for a healthy child to be vaccinated for COVID-19 as it represents near nil risk of death or disability to the vast majority while almost all have natural immunity which is as or more protective.”

Parents of unvaccinated children would be stripped of welfare payments

Compliance with the PNI and the new COVID-19 vaccination requirement will be a prerequisite for participation in the “Bolsa Família,” Brazil’s social welfare program.

According to O Dia, “The Bolsa Família Program, created in October 2003, in the first government of [current President] Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva … exists to guarantee basic income for Brazilians and Brazilians in poverty.”

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