BERLIN: A 10-year-old girl is vaccinated against COVID-19 at a vaccination center for children at the museum of natural history yesterday. — AFP

MADRID: Several European nations started vaccinating children aged five to 11 against COVID-19 yesterday in an effort to contain a raging pandemic and keep schools open, as Germany launched raids over death threats against a pro-vaccine public official. The push to immunize children has gained fresh urgency from concerns over the rapid spread of the heavily mutated Omicron variant of the virus, which was first identified in southern Africa late last month.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned yesterday that Omicron could become dominant in Europe by mid-January. Croatia, Germany, Spain, Greece and Hungary were among those opening up their inoculation drives to younger kids, with other nations still weighing their approach.

Spain, which has one of Europeís highest COVID-19 vaccination rates, launched its immunization campaign for five to 11-year-olds. The country has around 3.3 million children within that age group. Health Minister Carolina Darias called the start of child vaccination an ìimportant milestoneî in the fight against the pandemic. A survey published by Appinio found that 74 percent of Spanish parents of five to 11-year-olds wanted to get their kids jabbed.

Doctors elsewhere in Europe also reported strong initial demand from parents. ìAs soon as we offered the vaccine appointments, they were pretty much all snapped up,î said Jakob Maske, a Berlin-based doctor and spokesman for Germanyís association of pediatricians. But he downplayed expectations of the kidsí shots heralding a turning point in the fight against COVID-19, at a time when Germany is battling a fierce fourth wave.