KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — Vaccinating adults alone will not prevent children and adolescents from contracting Covid-19 disease, experts from the Ministry of Health (MOH) said today.
According to Dr Nik Khairulddin Nik Yusoff, a paediatrician based at Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II in Kota Bharu, Kelantan, although adults are being prioritised to receive Covid-19 vaccines at the moment, vaccinating the entire adult population might not be possible.
“Because of that, we have to start vaccinating others once we reach certain levels of the adult population,” Dr Nik Khairulddin said today in a virtual media briefing focusing on vaccine effectiveness and adolescent vaccination.
He added that the highly transmissible Covid-19 variants will be a threat to the safety of children because even the fully vaccinated adults can transmit the virus to the unvaccinated community.
“So I think the priority is definitely still adults and MOH will continue to vaccinate whichever adults that we have not reached so far. But we have to start looking at children because the numbers are scary and we cannot wait too long before it becomes like adult data at the beginning of the pandemic,” Dr Nik Khairulddin added in the media briefing organised by MOH.
“Maybe we can still get some benefits from vaccinating the adults that majority of adults vaccinated, but it will not really fully protect the children, as we expected before, with this new very more transmissible form of Delta variant that we face now.
“So I think that will be not big enough to say that if enough adults are vaccinated, we are going to be protecting our kids, not with this new delta variant that we are seeing.”
Dr Nik Khairulddin also said the increasing number of Covid-19 hospitalisations among children and adolescents in the past few months shows the need to vaccinate children in the country.
He said that approximately 40,000 to 50,000 Covid-19 cases were reported among the population under 18 years old for the past two months, which eventually increased the hospitalisation rate in minors.
However, Dr Nik did not specify the number of children being hospitalised due to the coronavirus infection and children who develop severe illness.
This year, as of September 21, a total of 410,762 Covid-19 cases were reported among the population below 18 years compared to 12,620 cases last year — an increase of almost 33 times compared to last year.
This year, the case fatality rate of Covid-19 for this population also increased from 0.01 per cent (January 1 until June 30) to 0.02 per cent (July 1 until September 19).
In the same period of time, the proportion of adults who died from Covid-19 out of those infected was 0.81 and 1.21 per cent respectively.
“The number of severe cases is not that many but it is increasing rapidly,” said Dr Nik Khairulddin.
“So I think we should be doing it together — that we continue to vaccinate the adults but it’s time also to move on with the younger children because they are at risk as well.”
Besides that, Dr Hishamshah Mohd Ibrahim, deputy director-general of health (research)
and technical support) added that the pandemic will soon shift to the unvaccinated people including the children and adolescent population.
Dr Hishamshah added that Covid-19 cases will spike among children that can also result in deaths, after completely inoculating a larger fraction of adults in the country.
“Our kids are getting Covid-19 and they are dying. Last year the number was six, now we are seeing a lot more,” Dr Hishamshah mentioned in the virtual media briefing.
“So that is why we consider that this is about the time where we really need to consider vaccinating our kids.”
“So if you can save one child, you can save a very long life ahead of them. So there is this emphasis on why we want to protect our children as well.”
The number of Covid-19 deaths among those below the age of 18 increased from six cases last year to 75 this year, as of September 21.
Dr Hishamshah ensured that all precautionary measures and an in-depth analysis will be conducted by MOH to make sure that administration of Covid-19 vaccines will not jeopardise the safety of children and adolescents.
“When we start vaccinating children, I think the high priority will be the ones who are having comorbidities,” he said.
“When we say that, we are probably going to do it in a very cautious manner. We are putting everything in place to make sure that this is going to be done judiciously and ensure that all adverse events are going to be catered to and we are going to make sure that none of our kids are going to be affected badly by the adverse event.”
According to England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, the highest rate of Covid-19 transmission has begun to occur among adolescents aged 12 to 15 years old, who would be infected if they are not protected from the coronavirus.