Should I take my child to get the Covid-19 vaccine?
With the Omicron variant doing the rounds, people are being encouraged to get the Covid-19 vaccine if they haven’t yet done so. What does this mean for your child?
On Sunday South Africans of all walks of life held their breath as we awaited the outcome of the latest family meeting.
Much to our relief, President Cyril Ramaphosa told us that we would stay on lockdown level one, largely in part due to the availability of vaccines.
He encouraged people to continue wearing masks and enjoy fresh air and appealed to the unvaccinated to visit their nearest vaccination site as soon as possible.
In October, Covid-19 vaccination was extended to teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 years. The regulation was that those in this age group receive the Pfizer vaccine and only one dose thereof.
This comes as a number of countries, including the US and the UK, have started vaccinating children from the age of 12 and continue to urge their populations to get vaccinated as we grapple with what the Omicron variant will mean in the fight against the virus.
To understand more about the need, the safety and the reasons behind the decision to start vaccinating children, we spoke to Professor Hannelie Meyer, the head of the SA Vaccination and Immunisation Centre at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, and Dr Susan Louw, a haematopathologist at SA’s National Health Laboratory Service.
WHY CHILDREN MUST GET THEIR COVID-19 JAB
When it comes to vaccinating children between the ages of 12 and 17, Louw explains that there is both an individual and collective benefit.
“The vaccine has been proven to reduce severe infection and also reduce hospitalisation associated with Covid-19,” Louw says. “The vaccine also prevents long Covid, which is long-term consequences of Covid-19 infection.”
Meyer says that, according to recent data from the US, Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in individuals aged 15-24 years and the sixth leading cause of death for those aged five to 14 years.
Meyer stresses that it is particularly beneficial for children with underlying conditions and weakened immune systems to be vaccinated and says children are also at risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19, including multisystem inflammatory syndrome which can lead to inflammation of vital organs, but that vaccination can reduce these risks.
According to recent data from the US, Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in individuals aged 15-24 years and the sixth leading cause of death for those aged five to 14 years
The collective benefit to vaccinating children is for the people teenagers interact with — especially those at higher risk of contracting Covid-19.
“Vaccination will be the only means for children to return to their normal activities of school, sport and social interaction,” says Meyer. “The higher the number of unvaccinated people in the community, the higher transmission of the virus to vaccinated and unvaccinated people, with the unvaccinated bearing the brunt.”
IS IT SAFE FOR CHILDREN TO GET THE SHOT?
“Similar to adults, the vast majority of side effects in children are mild and should resolve within the first three days following vaccination,” Meyer says.
According to Louw, with any medical intervention there are risks, but the risks associated with children getting the Covid-19 vaccine are a lot smaller and a lot less important when compared with the benefits of the vaccine.
There are documented cases of teenagers who have developed myocarditis and pericarditis — conditions in which the muscles and the tissues surrounding the heart can be affected.
However, Louw says millions of vaccines have been administered to teenagers and these serious side-effects do occur, but they are rare events. Furthermore, these can be treated if picked up and are not going to be fatal if advice and treatment have been sought.
“The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) will only authorise a vaccine for use when they have sufficient evidence that the vaccine is safe and effective, which is what they have done in the case of authorising Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in adolescents aged 12 years and older,” Meyer adds.
WHY ARE CHILDREN ONLY REQUIRED TO RECEIVE A SINGLE PFIZER DOSE?
Though Sahpra authorised two doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the age of 12 years, 12- to 17-year-olds are now eligible to receive one dose of the vaccine, according to the vaccine rollout schedule of the national department of health.
The department has indicated that further information regarding a second dose will follow and it’s likely this might be advised at a later stage.
Louw says the single-dose recommendation relates to side-effects children may experience. “Studies that have been conducted [show that] children or teenagers mount adequate immune responses to a single dose because their immune system is just so much more virulent and active. It’s been shown that the side-effects will be less frequent and the efficacy will be sufficient to protect against Covid-19 infection after a single dose.”
“We also know that children are much more likely than adults to have had asymptomatic infection, so giving one dose to children may act as a booster to a relatively large proportion of them,” Meyer adds.
Additionally, giving only one dose of the vaccine at this stage will also allow more time to collect further safety data on the potential side-effects within this age group.
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