RECENTLY, the World Health Organisation’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that Covid-19 vaccines were safe and effective for children aged 12 years and above.
As an exit strategy from this pandemic and in hopes for a safe reopening of schools, our government commenced a vaccination programme for adolescents (aged 12 to 17 years) last month. As at Oct 25, 55.3% of adolescents had successfully completed two doses of the Pfizer vaccine and at least 81.6% had taken their first dose.
Although statistics have shown that adolescents account for only a small portion of Covid-19 cases compared to adults, there is an increasing recognition of paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporarily associated with Covid-19 that can cause serious illness as well as long-term complications on the health and well-being of younger children.
It is also important to bear in mind that children can be asymptomatic and still transmit the virus. Thus, vaccination can prevent the spread of this disease to family members and friends who may be more vulnerable to the devastating consequences of the infection.
Being vaccinated also helps to restore normalcy in the lives of our adolescents who have endured prolonged lockdowns, isolation and school closures. These circumstances have deprived them of physical learning opportunities, school support systems and other extracurricular activities. Among adolescents, having physical contact, especially with their peers, is important for their growth and development.
Although mass vaccination holds great promise in combating Covid-19, addressing parents and children’s concern over vaccine safety is paramount for a successful immunisation drive. It must be emphasised to parents that the Health Ministry takes vaccine safety precautions seriously by continuously examining the available clinical trial data before deciding to authorise the use of any vaccines.
Parents should be informed that children generally develop the same side effects as an adult, namely pain, body aches, fever, headache and/or tiredness, which are mostly temporary and would resolve within 48 hours.
Among those who have been vaccinated, the occurrence of side effects such as myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the outer lining of the heart) in male adolescents was extremely rare. However, children complaining of shortness of breath, chest pain and fast heart rate after vaccination should immediately be taken for medical attention, and they should get clearance from their doctor before engaging in any sports or physical exercises.
Parents are highly encouraged to seek advice from medical practitioners prior to deciding on their children’s vaccination if they have any questions.
Malaysia’s daily rate of new infections has been on a steady decline following the successful vaccination programme.
As the country prepares to transition into an endemic phase, adolescents must be provided a safe environment to carry out their routine daily activities.
The known and potential benefits of vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks, hence the best and immediate way to get back to the life we lived before the pandemic is to get vaccinated.
DR KALAASHINI RAMACHANDRAN
PROFESSOR DR MAZNAH DAHLUI
ASSOC PROFESSOR DR NIK DALIANA NIK FARID
Department of Social and Preventive Medicine
Faculty of Medicine