KUALA LUMPUR: The vaccination programme for children aged five to 11 is expected to start soon now that Malaysia’s Drug Control Authority has granted conditional approval for the administration of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to children in that age group.
Although their vaccine dosage will be much lower than that administered to adolescents and adults, many parents feel uneasy about it and have taken to social media to protest against the move, saying that their children are too young to be immunised against COVID-19.
In fact, lawyer and mother-of-10 Asiah Abdul Jalil lodged a police report at the Kuantan district police station on Jan 7 to record her objection for a booster dose to be administered to her children aged between 12 and 19, as well as the first dose for the ones aged between five and 11.
Medical experts, however, are of the view that vaccinating children in the five to 11 age group is the best way to reduce the risk of infection among them and that no adverse events have been reported in countries that have already started giving the COVID-19 vaccine to young children.
Some 5.9 million children in Malaysia aged between five and 11 are expected to receive the COVID-19 vaccine following Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s announcement on Jan 6 that the Drug Control Authority has conditionally approved Pfizer’s vaccine Comirnaty for the inoculation of children aged five to 11 and a new formulation of the vaccine for adolescents aged 12 and above.
He said children in the five to 11 age group will receive a dose of 10 micrograms (mcg) Concentration for Dispersion for Injection, compared to the new 30 mcg dose of Comirnaty (Tris/Sucrose) formulation that adolescents will get.
CANNOT BE DELAYED
Hospital Universiti Teknologi MARA deputy director (clinical) and respiratory medicine expert Associate Prof Dr Ahmad Izuanuddin Ismail said the issue of children’s safety should not arise as many countries have already started vaccinating their young children.
“The United States, European countries and our neighbour Singapore are among them. So far, it has been successful,” he told Bernama.
Based on media reports, the US started giving the COVID-19 vaccine to children aged between five and 11 on Nov 4 with its president Joe Biden describing it as a turning point in the nation’s battle against the infectious disease.
In Europe, Germany, Spain, Greece and Hungary are among the nations that have started vaccinating their children. According to reports, the demand for the vaccine is high among parents there who want their children to be immunised.
As far as these countries are concerned, the move will not only stem the transmission of the killer virus but also pave the way for their children to return to school. Singapore embarked on its vaccination programme for children below 12 on Dec 27.
Dr Ahmad Izuanuddin said since data is already available on the safety of the vaccine in children aged between 11 and five, there is no reason why Malaysian parents should delay their children’s vaccination.
“We can no longer delay the administration of this vaccine for our children’s protection, what with new variants such as Omicron causing a surge in cases worldwide. We’ve also been told that another new variant IHU has been detected in France,” he said.
He said although the effects of COVID-19 infection on children are not as severe as that of people who are older and belong to the high-risk group, there are, however, concerns over the long-term effects of COVID-19 or long COVID on children’s lungs.
“This (vaccination) is part of efforts to ensure that the COVID-19 virus does not directly attack the lungs, especially in the case of children who have asthma.
“A recent study in Scotland showed that children who have severe asthma and need steroid medications to keep it under control or who experience asthma attacks regularly are more prone to COVID-19 infection, in addition to being at risk of developing lung complications if they get infected. This is why children are encouraged to receive the vaccine,” he explained.
Universiti Putra Malaysia Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences senior lecturer Dr Masriana Hassan said the vaccine dosage for children below 12 is set according to the specifications determined by the relevant bodies including the US Food and Drug Administration’s panel of advisors, as well as the vaccine manufacturer.
Dr Masriana, who is with the Immunology Unit at the Department of Pathology, said it is also normal for children to develop certain symptoms including fever after receiving the COVID-19 shot as the vaccine is reacting to the recipient’s body.
“Children have been given various vaccines since birth. These include BCG (to prevent TB or tuberculosis) and hepatitis B (to prevent hepatitis B viral infection).
“Of course, our body will react when a foreign antigen enters the body,” she said.
Allaying concerns over the vaccine’s safety, she said even though the COVID-19 vaccine is a new innovation, reports based on the latest data and studies done in other countries have not shown any severe complication in children in the five to 11 age group who received the vaccine.
“For now, it may be difficult to get the best and most comprehensive data because it (vaccine) is still new but for me, the existing data can be used as a reference,” she added.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Registered Childminders Association president Anisa Ahmad said the association is leaving it to the authorities to issue the guidelines regarding the vaccination of children aged six and five.
She said for now, the operators of all childcare centres have been told to strictly comply with the existing standard operating procedures (SOPs) to prevent transmission of COVID-19 in their premises.
Siti Rohaniza Mat Isa, 48, who operates Taska Boo Boo Cak Manjaku, a childcare centre, said SOP compliance is the best way to keep their children safe from infections.
“As a childcare centre operator, I feel all SOPs must be observed properly, not only by the educators but parents too, to ensure the well-being of the children in our care.
“But to ensure their protection against COVID-19, their parents must get them vaccinated,” she added. - Bernama