Amid what President López Obrador described as a “disinformation campaign,” the federal government on Friday defended its decision not to offer COVID-19 vaccines to most children aged under 15.
The government has only offered vaccines to minors below that age if they have an existing health condition that makes them vulnerable to serious illness.
Deputy Health Minister Hugo López-Gatell told López Obrador’s regular news conference that the probability of a healthy child getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is “very, very low.”
He cited World Health Organization recommendations that indicate that healthy children and adolescents are a low-priority cohort when it comes to vaccinating against COVID-19.
The coronavirus point man presented data showing that the COVID death rate for children aged 12, 13 and 14 is below 1 per 100,000 people.
“Every child is very important, there’s no doubt, and childhood is a stage of life that deserves great protection. However, the probability of a child having a complication due to COVID and dying due to COVID … if they’re healthy … is very, very low — approximately 274 times lower than … adults,” López-Gatell said.
“Our perception of risk, of danger due to COVID, is completely legitimate because it’s based on an epidemic that has caused great damage,” he said, referring to an official death toll above 300,000.
However, the majority of people who have died were adults, especially older Mexicans, the deputy minister said.
He acknowledged that there have been hundreds of COVD-related deaths among children and described each fatality as a tragedy.
“However, in terms of optimizing the use of the vaccine, we [must] first recognize that these people had comorbidities and that’s why they were prioritized [for vaccination] from the beginning,” López-Gatell said, although shots weren’t offered to children aged 12 to 17 with underlying health conditions until September.
“Healthy people of these ages have an extremely low probability … of having a complication and dying due to COVID. This is the reason [we’re not vaccinating children under 15],” he said.
Earlier in the press conference, the president acknowledged that the government’s decision has been controversial.
“And our adversaries, the conservatives, take advantage of this situation, like others, to say that we don’t care about children and we’re villains,” he said.
López Obrador charged that government opponents have spread rumors about the vaccination program and that the nation needed to be set straight.
“We have to remind [people] about the strategy we’ve followed, which has given us very good results, so [that] … this tendentious, bad faith campaign doesn’t prosper and people have sufficient information,” López Obrador said.
More than 164.8 million vaccine doses have been administered in Mexico, according to the latest data. López-Gatell said that the vaccination rate among the target population is 89%. He also said that 78% of hospitalized COVID patients are unvaccinated.
“They haven’t been vaccinated for various reasons, in no case due to a lack of access. The majority [was] because they didn’t want to be vaccinated, they feared getting vaccinated [or] they were told it would harm them. That’s why the infodemic is so dangerous.”