PETALING JAYA: Countries are looking at strategies to curb Covid-19 infections among children, with some even approving vaccines for adolescents.
Much of the focus during the pandemic has been on elderly folk and those with comorbidities.
However, as cases surge in the global community, the number of Covid-19 infections has also risen among those under the age of 18.
In Brazil, deaths among children under the age of 10 were reportedly over 2, 000, according to data as of mid-April.
More than 60, 000 children in the age group have been hospitalised for Covid-19 in the country, with many facing severe symptoms such as muscle aches, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
In July last year, Indonesia was said to be set to have the world’s highest rate of child deaths from Covid-19.
At that time, the Indonesian Paediatric Society said it believed more than 300 children in Indonesia had died from the disease.
Now, as vaccination rates gain traction across the world, children and adolescents are slowly being included for such vaccination.
The United Kingdom has recently approved Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds, while children of that same age bracket have already been receiving the shot in the United States.
The Chinese government has also approved Sinovac jabs to be given to those aged between three and 17.
Closer to home, Singapore has also approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged between 12 and 15.
Health experts in Malaysia have been urging the public to adhere to the rules and get vaccinated.
International Islamic University of Malaysia public health specialist Asst Prof Dr Mohammad Farhan Rusli said the increase in infections among children was a cause for concern.
“It is worrying. It is extremely important for those who can receive the vaccines to take them. Only through herd immunity, we can protect these vulnerable children from getting infected, ” he said.
He advised parents to keep their children at home, to minimise contact with others, especially in crowded places.
“They should also emphasise good hygiene practices, such as the 3Ws (Wash hands, Wear masks, Warn about Covid-19) as well as avoid 3Cs (Crowded places, Confined spaces, Close conversations), ” he said.
Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming, of Universiti Malaya’s Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, also pointed out children may risk infecting others.
“Although the symptoms and mortality rate of Covid-19 among children is very low compared with adults, they still can be the source of infection to older people and high-risk groups.
“On the other hand, children with pre-existing medical conditions will be at risk of severe disease and intensive care admission, ” she said.
She said while children need to be protected against Covid-19, vaccination should be prioritised among older persons and high-risk groups while the country’s vaccines are in short supply.
“If all the adults are vaccinated, we may have achieved 60-70% coverage, which from US and UK experiences, the transmission rate would reduce substantially, as well as rates of hospitalisation and death.
“If there is supply, children above 12 years old should be vaccinated like in the US, UK and Singapore, ” she said.
She said onsite schooling should be delayed until infection rates are reduced and parents should abide by the standard operating procedure when they are in public places.
“If parents think they are at risk of getting infected while they work, they should maintain physical distancing with the children, and refrain from sharing food or eating together with the children, ” she said.
However, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia epidemiologist Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Mohd Tamil said it must be determined if the increase of cases among children is disproportionately high compared to earlier trends.
“We must first verify if it is an apparent rise or real rise in cases among children. This is because the total number of new cases has risen. We need to know the proportion of children getting infected, ” he said.
He added that schools had now been closed, and there is a rule that children below the age of 12 must stay at home except for specific reasons.
“Steps have been taken, but the ultimate responsibility lies with oneself to comply with the rules, ” he said.