KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 23 – The statistics are clear. Covid-19 cases among children aged under 12 increased 160 per cent to 16,959 in the week of February 6 to 12 from the previous week.
Paediatric hospital admissions for severe Covid-19 have also been rising this month, amid the surge of coronavirus infections in the overall Malaysian population during the Omicron wave.
But despite the numerous facts and figures put out by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to boost the child Covid-19 vaccination programme (PICKids) — arguably the toughest of all the coronavirus inoculation rollouts — Malaysian parents appear to remain generally hesitant towards vaccinating their child against Covid-19, even when they have gotten the jabs themselves.
Some parents reluctantly got inoculated due to de facto vaccine mandates that only permit entry into public spaces for the fully vaccinated, or for employment reasons. But when it comes to their young children, they remain unwilling even though vaccines can prevent severe Covid-19 infection.
A 36-year-old woman from Penang refuses to vaccinate her two children aged below 12 against Covid-19, even though both she and her husband are triple-vaccinated. The couple took their shots mainly for employment purposes.
She said she and her spouse both tested positive for Covid-19 last January. As there was nobody else who could take care of their two young daughters aged between three and seven, they did not practice isolation measures at home.
Presumably, their children were also infected with the coronavirus, although they were not tested to confirm Covid-19 infection.
“When we were sick, my kids were sleeping with me. They were with me and my husband almost all the time,” the anonymous parent told CodeBlue.
“My kids were perfectly fine, although my husband and I suffered from fever and cold for several days. I don’t see the need to vaccinate my children when I witness them coping well with the virus.”
The mother-of-two refused to reveal her identity as she did not want to be judged for her decision and to influence the stand of other parents towards Covid-19 vaccines.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said Monday that registrations for paediatric Covid-19 vaccination have exceeded one million, or just 28 per cent of the 3.6 million cohort aged five to 11 years. About 16 per cent have received their first dose, according to the CovidNow site, since PICKids began three weeks ago on February 3.
Three more parents from Melaka and Selangor, who declined to be named, similarly do not want to inoculate their under-12 school-going children against the coronavirus, as they questioned the transparency of Covid-19 data released by MOH.
They noted that Covid-19 vaccination involves “huge pharmaceutical companies” and believed that revealing the actual data on vaccine side effects would jeopardise the image and business of these corporations.
The three parents aged between 35 and 45, who have completed two doses of Covid-19 vaccines, did not take booster shots as it is not made compulsory by the government for non-Sinovac recipients or those below the age of 60. Booster vaccination is de facto mandatory for these groups as they will lose their “fully vaccinated” status on MySejahtera on March 1 without a third dose.
“Do we have an option to refuse the vaccine? We need jobs to survive and for that, we had to vaccinate ourselves. But why should I risk my children?” one of them told CodeBlue.
Personally Vaccinated, But Not Ready To Risk Children
Thilagavathi Arichanan, who is residing in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, is still sceptical about inoculating her young children against Covid-19. She has three sons, including two primary school-going children.
The 41-year-old woman herself felt “forced” into getting vaccinated because of social restrictions imposed towards unvaccinated people. Thilagavathi, who is a science graduate, did not want to disclose her occupation.
“I have taken two doses of Covid-19 vaccine. I had to. But when it comes to my children, I am not ready to take the risk,” Thilagavathi told CodeBlue.
“I am not against vaccines. My children have completed all the recommended child vaccination processes since they were babies.”
Thilagavathi, who has started to send her children to school, noted that her kids are “absolutely fine” so far, although there is a risk of Covid-19 transmission in schools.
She also expressed her concerns on the safety aspects of child vaccination against Covid-19 after watching a video that went viral recently.
The video featured two ethnic Indian parents — whose 13-year-old son died 18 days after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine — crying and pleading with the public in Tamil to reconsider vaccinating their children against Covid-19.
“KKM does this to us because we obeyed them. They are saying that it (Covid-19 vaccine) is not compulsory. But they are forcing us indirectly and giving it. Please, all of you, think carefully before deciding. Please do not undergo the sufferings that we are experiencing.”
It is unclear what the couple was referring to regarding the “indirect” compulsion for child Covid-19 vaccination, as the federal Ministry of Education does not mandate jabs for children or adolescents to attend school.
Klang MP Charles Santiago, who tweeted the video clip, called on MOH to publish the post-mortem report of the young boy and clarify if the Covid-19 vaccine was related to the 13-year-old’s death.
Thilagavathi, who referred to the video, said: “We, the parents, are required to sign a declaration form before vaccinating our children. Who will be responsible if anything happens to my children?”
Worried After Watching Video About Boy’s Death
Shamini Poovendran initially registered her son under PICKids to get him vaccinated during school holidays next week.
But the fortyish senior executive, who is currently living in Kuala Lumpur, is now worried after watching the video of the parents talking about their 13-year-old boy’s death following Covid-19 vaccination.
“Actually, before the viral video, I was very fine, but now I’m really unsure. I was actually planning to send my son for vaccination next week,” Shamini told CodeBlue.
“But I will still send my kid for vaccination.”
She highlighted that the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine and unknown long-term risk of vaccination for children are some of the major concerns among parents for not vaccinating their children against coronavirus infection.
“Most parents around my circle of friends are well aware of the effect and most of the kids are vaccinated. However, there are concerns about the side effects, especially for smaller kids aged between five and seven.”
Covid-19 Surge Motivates Vaccination For Kids
Nur Liyana M Shariff, a 35-year-old mother of three children in Gombak, Selangor, was pleased after vaccinating two of her children aged between six and nine against Covid-19 on February 18.
The kids did not experience any side effects like fever after receiving their shot. Nur Liyana bought them ice cream and toys “as rewards” for being easy during the entire vaccination process.
“The boys did ask for ice cream and pasta immediately after the vaccination. I think a common side effect is increased appetite,” Nur Liyana told CodeBlue.
Nur Liyana, who works as an accountant, admitted that she was also doubtful about child Covid-19 vaccination initially. However, the recent rise in Covid-19 cases made her change her mind.
“Immediately my motherhood instinct told me to urgently register my kids for vaccination and I am glad that I did it. It was efficient and we got the appointment slots within two weeks.”
Nur Liyana explained that fear of Covid-19 vaccination and its side effects for children are the main concerns among parents who are delaying jabbing their children.
She said that some of her friends are adopting the “wait and observe” approach before deciding to vaccinate their children.
MIS-C Data Prompts Registration For Child’s Jab
Loong Jaymee from Petaling Jaya, Selangor, informed CodeBlue that she hasn’t vaccinated her two children aged seven and five against Covid-19 yet, but has already registered her eldest on MySejahtera for the shot.
The 37-year-old consultant was just as concerned and protective about her children as any other parents, as she expressed uncertainty about the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine on children.
“My main concern is myocarditis, which seems more prevalent in younger males who take the mRNA vaccine, and how it may affect the child in the long term,” Loong told CodeBlue.
According to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of myocarditis, or heart inflammation, have occurred after mRNA Covid-19 vaccination (either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna), especially in male adolescents and young adults. But most patients with myocarditis recover quickly after receiving care.
“Some doctors say that there are no long-term effects because we just take it once and it disappears from our body, but if we keep having to take boosters, then there would be some effects after taking multiple jabs,” Loong added.
Nevertheless, she highlighted that she is not against vaccines in any way as she has already taken her Covid-19 booster shot too.
“I myself have taken an AstraZeneca booster, but I want to take extra precaution when it comes to my kids.”
Recently, MOH noted the possibility of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) caused by Covid-19 infection. MIS-C is a serious condition of organ inflammation such as the lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.
In Malaysia, seven children died from MIS-C following Covid-19 infection out of 174 MIS-C cases reported from June 2020 to December 2021.
Loong said that data on MIS-C was one of the factors why she decided to vaccinate her eldest child.
“Till now we have been weighing out factors for and against, and it is tipping towards vaccinating them.”
Loong is a working mother and she is required to send her kids to a child care centre when she is away at work. As the risk of Covid-19 transmission increased, Loong made up her mind to get the Covid-19 vaccine for her eldest child.
“When it comes to my second, I’ll have to rethink again because she has allergy issues.”
PICKids Needs More Communication Like PICK
Zurairi A.R, father of a girl aged six, also noted a similar practice of “wait and see” among some of his friends and family members for child vaccination against the coronavirus.
Zurairi, a 37-year-old journalist from Putrajaya, said his daughter took her first Covid-19 vaccine jab on February 5.
“We’ve wanted to vaccinate her ever since studies support administering them to children, and it’s just our responsibility as parents to protect our family,” Zurairi told CodeBlue.
“In addition, we can have peace of mind by sending her to school with the Omicron wave coming.”
Zurairi’s six-year-old daughter, who loves to go school and enjoys in-person classes compared to online, did not experience any side effects after receiving her shot.
“She was physically active even the day after the vaccination and was already back at school on Monday.”
Zurairi acknowledged an information gap among parents in the country regarding child Covid-19 vaccination, as well as on the probability or how to handle side effects caused by vaccines among children.
“I wish we had the same energy for PICKids like we first did in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) – both in promoting and communicating with the media.”
Kid Vaccinated To Prevent Acute And Long Covid
Damien from Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, who has inoculated his six-year-old kid against Covid-19, told CodeBlue that he is well aware of the effects of the disease on children.
The 40-year-old businessman, who only wanted to give his first name, explained that acute Covid-19 among children and death are some of the concerns that led him to vaccinate his child.
He pointed out that there may be other effects of Covid-19, such as long Covid and “unknown long-term effects” on other systems in the human body, especially the cardiovascular and neurological systems.
When asked if he is aware of the significance of Covid-19 vaccines for children, he said: “For me, yes, though there are parents who think it’s not necessary and too risky for children.”