A form of harm reduction

I AM a mother of two boys aged 14 and 16. My eldest son received his first jab of the Covid-19 vaccine recently, and his brother’s is slated for Oct 10.

I am grateful that the government has allowed children aged between 12 and 17 to be vaccinated. To be honest, I was initially a bit reluctant to allow my children to get vaccinated. I am not an anti-vaxxer; both my husband and I are fully vaccinated.

My initial hesitation about getting my children vaccinated stemmed from uncertainties over the side effects of the vaccines. Research on the implications of Covid-19 vaccination on children was limited, at least initially. But as more empirical studies on this have been conducted, I now have confidence in getting my children vaccinated.

Recently, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin disclosed that more than 400,000 Covid-19 cases involving children below 18 were recorded this year and 67 died from it. That’s frightening statistics to a mother. Had the children been vaccinated, they probably would have survived.

As a parent, I chose the far less risky option for my children by allowing them to get vaccinated. Scientific studies have shown that even if they do contract the coronavirus, they are unlikely to suffer severe symptoms or die compared with if they had not been vaccinated.

I recently watched a video of former Cabinet minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala talking about the benefits of harm reduction, which made me understand why it should be considered for public health policy. I’d like to think that vaccinating my children is a form of harm reduction. While there are still risks associated with taking the Covid-19 vaccines, the harm of not being vaccinated is much higher. This is not unlike other forms of harm reduction programmes like needle-exchange for drug users or the use of heated tobacco to help smokers kick their unhealthy habit.

But what I am particularly concerned about is the reluctance of some parents to allow their children to be vaccinated. It is bad enough for adults to reject science and endanger themselves and society, but to subject their children to a life-threatening disease based on conspiracy theories is the height of irresponsibility.

Unvaccinated children are at high risk of contracting the virus. During the few months when physical learning took place in schools this year, I could tell that strictly enforcing Covid-19 standard operating procedures is next to impossible. Children tend to gather in groups with their close friends, giving scant regard to physical distancing rules. Some of them don’t wear their face masks properly and many classrooms are not ventilated well enough to cut the risks of transmission.

And there’s only so much that teachers and school administrators can do to make sure the SOP are followed.

As some classes hold up to 40 students who come from different localities, the risk of transmission is real. Children who are infected can then spread the disease at home or in their own social circles.

So, I implore parents of children aged 12 to 17 to please get them vaccinated! Sending your unvaccinated child to school is most irresponsible (unless he or she cannot receive the Covid-19 vaccine due to medical reasons).

I am raising the alarm because I am still receiving messages in parents’ chat groups on how some people are adamant in not wanting their children to be vaccinated.

Perhaps the government can do something about this, such as finding out why students have not applied for vaccination, and counselling parents who refuse to register their children for immunisation. Let’s all play a part in keeping our children and the community safe!


Petaling Jaya

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