Unvaccinated kids face higher risk of long Covid, other complications

Slightly over 30 per cent of children, aged between five and 11 in Malaysia have completed their Covid-19 vaccinations.

The vaccination drive for children started in February, but the number of those fully vaccinated remains relatively low.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, however, is hopeful that the vaccination rate among children would reach 50 per cent before the Covid-19 National Immunisation Programme for Children (PICKids) concludes on May 31.

As of today, 1,073,551 children (or 30.2 per cent) aged five to 11, have received two shots of the Covid-19 vaccine, while 2,906,035 individuals, aged between 12 and 17, are fully vaccinated.

In March, the Dewan Rakyat heard that 39 children aged between five and 11, had died from Covid-19 since the pandemic started in 2020. On Feb 25, 3,863 Covid-19 cases were recorded among those aged 5-11, the highest daily figure since the pandemic began. In contrast, the highest number of daily cases involving 12- to 17-year-olds was recorded on Feb 22 (1,954 cases).

Following the low pick-up rate, consultant paediatrician and researcher, Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS, shared why parents needed to sign their children up for the vaccination programme. He stressed that vaccination is only one part in protecting our children.

“Due to our low testing rate, we are less aware of the situation in the country,” said Dr Amar.

“Our Covid-19 hospitalisation data shows a recent rise in admissions since the first week of May, suggesting that the next wave of infections started approximately two weeks earlier – in the middle of April.

“As seen in other countries, we can expect sub-variants of the Omicron to spread rapidly over the next few weeks before it subsides.”

He added current evidence suggests that immunocompromised children, and with a disability, or those with chronic medical problems (comorbidities like congenital heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung disease) are at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19, especially from the Omicron variant.

Dr Amar said parents of these children should be more vigilant.

“We often hear that: ‘Covid-19 is not as bad in children as in adults.’ That does not mean that Covid-19 is good for children.

“It can cause harm. Of concern is the risk of getting multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), which is more common in younger children.”

This is a condition seen in Covid-19 infections where different organs – the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, and eyes – can be inflamed.

It is a delayed immune response to Covid-19 infection. In addition, there is the risk of developing long Covid, which can be debilitating.

Dr Amar added long Covid in children is real, and affects thousands of children globally, often impairing their learning ability, and hampering their return to school for many months.

“Vaccination against Covid-19 significantly reduces the risk of getting MIS-C, and decreases the risk of long Covid by 50 per cent,” he said.

“Children who are eligible for vaccination should be protected. Sadly, only 30.2 per cent of children aged 5-11, are fully protected by the vaccine.

“Parents should sign up for PICKids now, especially those who have children in the high-risk category. In addition, adolescents who have immunodeficiency, or high-risk conditions, should get a third dose (booster shot).

“We need children to continue to use good quality face masks – like FFP2/KF94 masks – and improve the ventilation in all classrooms significantly by using reliable High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA)-based portable air cleaners.”

He also urged parents and guardians to avoid taking children to crowded indoor locations.

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