KUALA LUMPUR: The wait-and-see stance taken by many parents on the vaccination of children aged between five and 11 will undermine the government’s goal of ensuring that 80% of children in that age group receive the first dose within a year and 60% complete both doses within six months.
Feedback from parents on the Health Ministry’s (MOH) official Facebook account shows that many parents are still reluctant to register their young children for the Covid-19 vaccine over fears of its purported side effects. They are also alleging that their children are being treated as “laboratory mice” and are too young to receive the vaccine.
Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Amar Douglas Uggah Embas was quoted as saying recently that 15% of 40,000 respondents in the state who participated in a survey last month were not in favour of the National Immunisation Programme for Children (PICKids) - which kicked off on Feb 3 - as they were worried about the complications that may arise and also the safety of the vaccine.
Health and medical experts, however, say their fears are unfounded, pointing out that most parents, whose concerns are only focused on the vaccine itself, are not seeing the immunisation drive as part of efforts to prevent Covid-19 infections that can lead to hospitalisation and even death.
Under PICKids, children who are eligible for the vaccination will be given two doses of the Cominarty 10mcg Concentrate for Dispersion for Injection produced by Pfizer-BioNTech. The second dose will be administered eight weeks after the first dose.
According to Universiti Putra Malaysia consultant paediatrician and consultant clinical immunologist and allergist Associate Prof Dr Intan Hakimah Ismail, the excuse that young children do not need the Covid-19 vaccine as their antibody response is still strong will only put them at higher risk of infection and developing serious illness.
“Based on existing data of the (Covid-19) vaccine’s history, most of the adverse side effects occurred within the first six weeks after receiving the shot, and negative long-term effects are often absent.
“The two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, when completed, can generate a strong immune response in children in that (five to 11) age group, which can prevent hospital admission and death due to Covid-19,” she told Bernama.
Vaccination, she added, will also provide protection against multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a complication of Covid-19 that is rare but serious and can lead to death.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said MOH has not received any adverse effect following immunisation (AEFI) report since the implementation of PICKids.
Worry about infection, not vaccine
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia virologist Associate Prof Dr Nazlina Ibrahim, meanwhile, said parents have no reason to worry about the Covid-19 vaccine as it has gone through the various trial phases.
She said one would experience the normal side effects after taking the vaccine which, indirectly, indicate that the recipient’s body is responding to the vaccine.
“What one should worry about are the severe effects of an (Covid-19) infection because it is more difficult to deal with this.
“Two doses of the vaccine are enough to reduce the risk of infection in children and the immune response can also address the Omicron variant, thus reducing the infectivity rate among children,” she said, adding that the authorities should clarify the issues surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine to the best of their abilities to allay parents’ fears.
Dr Nazlina also urged parents who are still unsure about getting their children vaccinated to refer to their MySejahtera application for a better understanding of the vaccine’s contents as well as its possible side effects.
Comirnaty safe for children
Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz senior clinical lecturer and consultant paediatric immunologist Dr Adli Ali said the vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech is safe and effective for children.
He said based on a report titled “BNT162b2 Covid-19 Vaccine in Children 5 to 11 years of Age” that appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine, the vaccine is capable of producing sufficient immunity to fight SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) infection.
“The study (quoted by the report) showed it is safe to administer the Pfizer 10 mcg vaccine with a 21-day interval between the two doses.
“Vaccination serves three purposes - it prevents (Covid-19) infections and even if some people get infected, they will only experience mild symptoms. This, indirectly, reduces the rate of transmission (of the virus) to other individuals,” he added.
Meanwhile, Balkish Awang, a mother of four, said she supports the vaccination programme for children and that two of her children aged 11 and nine received the first dose earlier this month.
“Of course, I’ve some concerns (about the vaccine) but it’s the only way to protect them against the deadly virus,” she said, adding that her children did not develop any serious side effects after receiving the vaccine.
As of Feb 9, a total of 62,809 children aged between five and 11 have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while 670,000 children have been registered for PICkids. – Bernama