I AM a mother of two boys, aged 14 and 16. Recently, my eldest son received his first jab of the Covid-19 vaccine in Stadium Axiata vaccination centre while his sibling has just received an appointment for the inoculation on Oct 10.
I am grateful that the government has given the green light for children between ages 12 and 17 to be vaccinated. To be honest, I was initially a bit reluctant to allow my children to get vaccinated. I am not an anti-vaxxer as my husband and I registered to be vaccinated the moment the application was opened, and we are now fully vaccinated.
My initial hesitation with vaccinating children stemmed from uncertainties over its side-effects. Unlike adults, research into the implication of Covid-19 vaccination on children was limited (at least initially). But as time passed, more empirical studies on this were conducted, and this had given me the comfort to allow my children to be vaccinated.
Recently, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin disclosed that 47 children under the age of 18 had died from Covid-19. Of that figure, 41 of the fatalities happened this year.
As a mother, that is a frightening number. Had the children been vaccinated, they probably would have survived. Based on the research I have done and having spoken to health professionals, I am convinced that the benefits of vaccinating children far outweigh the risks. As a parent, I chose the far less risky option for my children by allowing them to get vaccinated.
While they may still contract the virus or pass it on to someone else, scientific studies have shown that the harm is far less. Even if they do contract the coronavirus, they are unlikely to suffer severe symptoms or die, compared with if they had not been vaccinated.
On top of all the reading I have been doing on this topic, I recently watched a video of former minister Idris Jala talking about the benefits of harm reduction, which made me understand why harm reduction should be considered for public health policy. It is such an important tool to minimise risk when it cannot be avoided.
I would like to think that choosing to vaccinate my children is a form of harm reduction. While there is still risks associated with taking the Covid-19 vaccines, the harm of not being vaccinated is much higher. This is not unlike other forms of harm reduction programmes, like needle exchange for drug users or the use of heated tobacco to help smokers kick their unhealthy habit.
But what I am particularly concerned about is the reluctance of some parents to allow their children to be vaccinated. It is bad enough for adults to reject science, and endanger themselves and the society. But to subject their children to a life-threatening disease based on conspiracy theories is the height of irresponsibility.
Unvaccinated children are at high risks of contracting the virus. During the few months where physical learning took place in schools this year, I could tell that strictly enforcing Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOP) is next to impossible.
Children being children, will tend to gather in groups with their close friends, with scant regard for physical distancing rules, whether in classrooms or outside school. Some of them do not wear their face masks properly and many classrooms are not well ventilated to cut the risks of transmission. And there is only so much that teachers and school administrators can do to make sure the SOP are adhered to.
As some classes hold up to 40 students who come from different localities, the risk of transmission is real. Children who are infected can spread the disease at home or through their own social circles.
So I implore fellow parents of children aged 12 to 17 out there: “Please vaccinate your children! It is a matter of time before physical learning resumes and sending your unvaccinated child to school is most irresponsible (unless he or she cannot receive the Covid-19 vaccine due to medical reasons).”
I am raising the alarm because I still receive messages in parents’ chat groups or within my social circles of how some people are adamant in not wanting their children to be vaccinated.
Perhaps the government can do something about this, such as finding out why students have not applied for vaccination, and counselling the parents who refuse to enrol their children under the National Immunisation Plan.
Together, we can all play a part in keeping our children and the community safe.