Vaccination is a powerful tool in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Recently, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) and the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have decided that vaccines are safe for children aged 12 and above.
In hopes of a safe reopening of schools, our government have begun a vaccination programme for adolescents since September 2021. Up to October 25, 72.8 per cent of adolescents in Malaysia have successfully completed two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and at least 77.7 per cent have taken their first dose.
The benefits of vaccination can clearly be seen with the reduction in the number of active cases, both at the global and national levels. Since the launching of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme for Adolescents on September 2o, the number of active cases has dropped from 1,200 to 1,600 positive cases to 200 to 300 positive cases.
Vaccinating adolescents can reduce their risk of contracting the disease. Although statistics have shown that adolescents account for a small portion of Covid-19 cases, there is an increasing recognition of pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporarily associated with Covid-19, which can cause serious illness, as well as long-term complications affecting their health and wellbeing.
Children can also be asymptomatic and still transmit the virus. Therefore, vaccination can prevent the spread of the virus to family members and friends who might be more vulnerable.
Being vaccinated also aids in the restoration of normalcy in our adolescents’ lives. The impact of this pandemic has been profound. While prolonged lockdowns, isolation and school closures have limited the spread of the coronavirus, it has led to the deprivation of physical learning opportunities, school support systems, and other extracurricular activities for adolescents. Having regular contact with peers is important for their growth and development.
Although mass vaccination holds great promise in combating this pandemic, addressing parents and children’s concerns about vaccine safety is paramount for a successful vaccination drive.
Parents should take note that the Ministry of Health (MOH) takes vaccine safety precaution seriously, with continuous examinations of the available clinical trial data before deciding to authorise any vaccine.
Parents should be made aware that children generally get the same side effects as an adult, namely pain, body aches, fever, headache or tiredness, which are mostly temporary, and will disappear 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 are extremely rare.
Though it may be a rare occurrence, children complaining of shortness of breath, chest pain, and rapid heart rates post vaccination should immediately seek medical attention, and they should get clearance from their doctor before engaging in any exercise.
Parents dealing with misinformation and anxiety are highly encouraged to seek advice from medical practitioners prior to making a decision on their children’s vaccination.
Even though adolescents have been vaccinated, they must always be reminded to wear their mask and comply to the SOPs to further curb the spread of the disease.
Malaysia’s daily rate of new infections has been on a steady decline following the successful vaccination programme. As the country prepares for the transition into an endemic phase, adolescents must be provided a safe environment as daily activities resume.
As the director-general of WHO said, “No one is safe, until everyone is safe”. The known and potential benefits of vaccination outweigh the known and potential risks, therefore, the best and immediate way to get back to normal is to get vaccinated.
Dr Kalaashini Ramachandran, Prof Dr Maznah Dahlui, and Dr Nik Daliana Nik Farid are from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya.
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