‘Children face even greater dangers from Covid-19 as Malaysia enters endemic phase’

Malaysia is transitioning to endemicity after two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that does not mean we can take it easy, as unvaccinated children are a high-risk group.

Senior consultant paediatrician and researcher Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS said a United Kingdom study showed that for children, the effects of Omicron is the same as Delta.

“In the United States, one-third of child deaths occurred during the Omicron surge,” said Dr Amar.

“A Hong Kong study also showed that the Omicron variant is more severe in non-vaccinated children than previous strains.”

He said with the country’s borders opened, people will move around freely. However, this presents a problem.

“This puts children at a higher risk, especially those below five who are not vaccinated, and those in the 5-11 age group, as the vaccination rate is still low,” said the recipient of 2012’s Outstanding Asian Paediatrician Award, and 2015’s Senior Advocacy Award.

“If you look at the Health Ministry’s data, only 38 per cent of children aged 5-11 have received one dose of the vaccine. Less than one per cent has both doses.

“So, we have to be careful as our children are still vulnerable.

“Children are also back in school and could be easily exposed to the virus.”

However, they needed to return to physical classes as Malaysia had one of the highest learning losses among developing Asian nations.

He said Malaysia must learn from the mistakes of other nations that experienced a spike in Covid-19 cases when they relaxed their standard operating procedures.

Among them was South Korea, which eased restrictions in order to hold elections.

The US, Britain, and Hong Kong, also suffered an increase in the number of cases.

“A new major variant of concern appears every 130-140 days. The next variant could emerge this month,” warned Dr Amar.

“We might experience a surge in cases, even though we are in the endemic stage.

“The reality is that Covid-19 is here to stay. Some have suggested our grandchildren will probably receive the Covid-19 vaccine, which will be as common as influenza shots. Many of us will be infected over time.”

He said there are three effects of Covid-19:

  • Immediate: admission to hospital, organ damage, and even death.
  • Intermediate: Long Covid burden, where more than half the people who recover from Covid-19 continue to experience lingering symptoms, six months later.
  • Long-term burden: Illnesses we may see now, but go on for decades.

“Long Covid and long-term burden are not related to severity, alone. Asymptomatic mild infections can lead to chronic ill-health further down the road. But because it happens later, it might not be classified as symptoms of Covid-19,” he explained.

“Covid-19 has also caused multisystem inflammatory diseases in children, and some deaths.

“What is worrying is that cases among younger children have gone up, due to the Omicron variant.”

Dr Amar said adults must realise they have a responsibility to keep children safe by not exposing them to unnecessary risks.

He said children should continue to avoid crowded places, such as Ramadan bazaars, night markets, stadiums, and even malls.

“If you have to bring your children to these places, please ensure they use a good face mask. Make sure you get good quality masks from reliable manufacturers as they will help protect them,” he said.

“More importantly, we should fix the ventilation at home, offices, and especially, classrooms.

“Young children are still in danger. Do not let your guard down.”