SINGAPORE: The use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children aged 12 to 15 has been assessed to be safe and effective, Singapore's expert committee on COVID-19 vaccination said on Friday (May 21) in response to an open letter by 12 doctors. 

The doctors had called for children to be given other types of COVID-19 vaccines - and not the mRNA ones - saying the "long-term side effects are unknown and unstudied" for mRNA vaccines.

The two COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Singapore - Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna - are both based on mRNA technology. 

"The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently the only COVID-19 vaccine anywhere in the world that has been authorised for use in adolescents aged 12 to 15 years," said the expert committee.

"HSA (Health Sciences Authority) and the Expert Committee had reviewed the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine based on the clinical trials for individuals in this age group.

"The safety profile of the vaccine is consistent with the known safety profile in the adult population and the standards set for other registered vaccines used in the immunisation against other diseases."

READ: Children aged 12 to 15 to receive Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Singapore

The expert committee noted that 11 of the 12 doctors named in the open letter have since retracted their statement. 

It was announced earlier this week that children between 12 and 15 years old will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Singapore's population, including adolescents, are at risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission to their close contacts, the expert committee said on Friday, pointing to recent cases involving students who tested positive and passed on the virus to their family members and schoolmates. 

The expert committee said that while the international experience is that COVID-19 appears milder in the younger age groups, "there remains a risk of complications and long-lasting symptoms in children and adolescents". 

It is therefore recommended that those who are eligible should receive the vaccine, said the committee.

"COVID-19 vaccines cannot alter your DNA. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine comprises messenger RNA that contains the instructions to enable the vaccine recipient to build a protein component of the SARS-CoV-2 virus," the expert committee explained.

"The spike protein does not cause infection, but is recognised by the body’s immune system as foreign. The body then mounts an immune response and produces antibodies that protect against future infection by the virus. The vaccine mRNA is broken down by the body rapidly after the spike protein is built. The mRNA is unable to produce more copies of itself, and cannot enter the nucleus of the human cells where human genetic material (DNA) is stored. 

"Since the human genome is made up of DNA, it is not biologically plausible for the vaccine mRNA to be integrated or to interfere with the DNA of the vaccine recipient."

READ: Singapore to extend interval of COVID-19 vaccine doses to between 6 and 8 weeks

More than 200 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been administered worldwide, with no evidence of serious side effects besides anaphylaxis, said the expert committee.

It added that authorities will continue to monitor and review evidence and information that emerge from further studies on the long-term safety and efficacy of vaccines.

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