KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 – About 0.52 per cent, or 15 of the 2,867 Covid-19 deaths reported in Malaysia as of June 1, occurred among children aged below 18 years.
The Covid-19 case fatality rate among under-18s was 0.02 per cent, as 15 of the reported 82,341 individuals in this age group who contracted coronavirus had succumbed to the disease.
Covid-19 remains most dangerous to the elderly, who face much higher risk of developing severe disease or dying from the virus than children. About 74 per cent of 1,290 people who died from Covid-19 last month, or 955 individuals, were aged 60 years and above.
From statistics released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia in 2017, the population of those below the age of 18 accounts for 30 per cent of our general population (or roughly 9.6 million). Hence, the rough estimate of deaths due to Covid-19 among children and teenagers below the age of 18 in Malaysia is about two in one million.
Though the number might be minute, it is still the lost of a young child from something which is perhaps avoidable if adults remain vigilant for their behalf.
The 15 deaths among those below the age of 18 in Malaysia as of June 1 can be described as follows:
From the table, we can see that 60 per cent, or nine, of the 15 deaths in Covid-19 victims aged below 18 occurred this year, and we are just only halfway through the year.
The highest number of Covid-19 deaths among under-18s came from those aged 13 to 17 with seven fatalities. The majority of deaths, 10 of 15, were seen in the state of Sabah.
The average time of admission to deaths was 7.71 days and 60 per cent of the 15 children who died from Covid-19 had some form of underlying health condition. The common comorbidity that the nine children suffered was being immunocompromised or having some form of cancer (66.66 per cent). From the total 15 deaths among those aged below 18 years, four (26.67 per cent) were foreigners or stateless children. It was also disturbing to learn that four (26.67 per cent) children were brought in dead.
According to Ministry of Health (MOH) data released on June 1, among the 82,341 Covid-19 cases among people below the age of 18, teenagers aged 13 to 17 comprised 33.28 per cent of cases, followed by those aged seven to 12 years (31.6 per cent), then the age group of below four years old (24.11 per cent), and those aged five to six years (10 per cent).
We know for a fact that it is difficult to apply standard operating procedures (SOPs) to the children. Face-masking is not suitable for those below two years old, and those aged two to five are not very good at complying with this.
It is also difficult for children to comprehend the concept of physical distancing, especially when they are in areas like in schools in the company of other children.
Thus, it is no surprise that we see that the highest case fatality rate of 0.03 per cent – among the 15 children who lost their lives to Covid-19 – was among those aged below four years.
The same 0.03 per cent case fatality rate was recorded in the 13-17 age group. This can be attributed to a few things. It might be compliance with the wearing of masks and also poor compliance among these students, especially during unsupervised hours (outside schools and perhaps in other educational centres outside schools).
Among some of the reasons cited by many parents in the past is the cost of face masks that they are incurring for the students. It should be a policy by the Ministry of Education to provide each student with a face mask on a daily basis.
Also, the provisions of face-shields will also be helpful as it is a one-off purchase. This can help curb the spread of Covid-19, especially in school going children, as we see that 65.88 per cent of Covid-19 infections among under 18s occurred among those aged seven and older.
There must be also consideration for the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools are well ventilated (proper in-flow and out-flow of air), especially in classrooms, to avoid Covid-19 spread within schools. Many keep forgetting that schools consist of children attending and the workers present in schools ensuring that education takes place, ie teachers, canteen workers and other office and associate staff.
We must ensure that these individuals are educated (especially on Covid-19 spread and the importance of ventilation) and vaccinated before the lockdown on schools is lifted so that our children can return to a safer environment.
The government must keep close tabs on newer data coming out about Covid-19 vaccination among children. Singapore has already started registering students for this. Why should we be left behind?
Let’s vaccinate our community (those above the age of 18) with vaccines that are not suitable for those below 18 and reserve certain brands that have shown to be effective in children above the age of 12 so that we achieve better herd immunity in Malaysia.
For all age groups, it is vital that parents and caretakers do not allow their children to unnecessarily leave home and be exposed to the virus outside. It is highly important that parents play a more active role in ensuring this. We are in another peak of the epidemic that requires everyone to play their bit.
Note: This analysis was written by anonymously because of the government’s gag order against civil servants.