Your Covid-19 questions answered

If children are rarely at risk of severe Covid-19 infection, why vaccinate them?

22 October 2021 - 07:00
On Wednesday, the health department's rollout of vaccines for adolescents began, with a goal of vaccinating at least 6-million people from this age group. Stock photo.
On Wednesday, the health department's rollout of vaccines for adolescents began, with a goal of vaccinating at least 6-million people from this age group. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Katarzyna Białasiewicz

Confusion and mixed emotions are at the centre of conversations about the vaccine rollout for children between 12 and 17 years old.

On Wednesday, the health department began giving adolescents the jab, with a goal of vaccinating at least 6-million people from this age group.

It is hoped the rollout will boost the country's vaccination rate, which is behind the target of 300,000 daily shots set in July. SA is now administering about 200,000 doses per day.

One dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is given to the young age group, on recommendation from the committee which advises the government on its Covid-19 strategy.

If children are rarely at risk of severe infection, why vaccinate them? 

Although adolescents are less likely to suffer severe infections of Covid-19, the department said it’s important to vaccinate them to keep schools open and to prevent them from becoming sick from the virus. 

Dr Sheri Fanaroff, a general practitioner, said vaccinations, among other things, reduce the chance of children dying, of severe infections, hospitalisation, and the need for oxygen and being placed in an intensive care unit (ICU).

According to Fanaroff, vaccines can also help children avoid long Covid-19, reduce the risk of transmission and symptoms. 

“By vaccinating teenagers, they are less likely to transmit the virus to their parents, peers and teachers at school and to others in the community.

“Teenagers are a social group who congregate together, and many outbreaks in the community have occurred after parties or sports events, where teens have been unable to stick to Covid-19 protocols. More unvaccinated people in the population lead to more virus transmission for everyone, both vaccinated and unvaccinated,” said Fanaroff.

What does the law say about vaccinating children?

The Children’s Act states: “A child may consent to his or her own medical treatment or to the medical treatment of his or her child if the child is over the age of 12 years and the child is of sufficient maturity and has the mental capacity to understand the benefits, risks, social and other implications of the treatment.”

This provision further extends to children older than 12 years consenting to the performance of surgical procedures for themselves, and their children, provided they are mature enough to understand the risks and are assisted by their parents or guardians. 

However, Johannesburg divorce lawyer Shando Theron said this is not accurate.

“There is no law that says that. As a matter of fact, there are laws that pretty much say the opposite. In terms of section 17 of the Children’s Act, a child under 18 can’t give consent. There are certain exceptions, but they are written into laws. 

“There is no law that says ‘for the Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer vaccine you don’t require the consent of your parents’. The high court is the upper guardian of all children, not the minister of health.”

The government advised parents and guardians to accompany their children to vaccination sites.

“It is recommended that parents have open discussions with children about the benefits of Covid-19 vaccines to make an informed health choice, and possibly accompany them when they present themselves at vaccination sites,” said the department.

“Vaccination of young people from the age of 12 years is a global phenomenon of which the parents should not be too concerned.”


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