Malaysia seeks to assure parents wary of sending unvaccinated kids back to school amid Covid-19

Parents can now check the vaccination rates of both students and staff of individual schools on the CovidNow website. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - In an attempt to reassure parents as schools across Malaysia reopen in stages, the CovidNow government website now lists the vaccination rates of students and staff of individual schools.

The reopening of more sectors of the economy and the resumption of interstate and overseas travel have also raised concerns among parents who worry about having their unvaccinated children back in school.

The Health Ministry last month warned of rising Covid-19 infections among children, but the situation has improved in recent weeks. As at Tuesday (Oct 12), there had been 79 deaths reported among those below 18 years over the last six months.

Mother-of-two Joanne Lee, 39, told The Straits Times that her children's primary school in Johor is making preparations to reopen in November.

"I'm petrified at the thought. My 12-year-old daughter will be fully vaccinated in mid-November but I don't know when my seven-year-old son will be receiving his vaccination. But we have to send him to school.

"Which parent, under these circumstances, would be okay with sending their kids to school? Do they want ICUs full of sick kids?" she said, referring to intensive care units.

The reopening of schools is being implemented in stages from Oct 3, starting with candidates of major exams, and is based on a state's Covid-19 situation - under the four-phase National Recovery Plan - to be announced by the government.

For states in phase four - which is nearly a full reopening - primary school students aged seven to nine are projected to attend school on a rotational basis from Oct 17, while those aged 10 to 12 will return from Oct 31.

Under the rotational system, only 50 per cent of students in a school can physically attend classes at a time.

Last month, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said Malaysia is in talks with a vaccine maker to procure vaccines for children aged below 12 years, but no updates have been given so far.

"We want all people in Malaysia to be protected. We don't want things to end up where adults and teenagers are vaccinated, but then there is a pandemic among children," said Mr Khairy.

With more than 90 per cent of adults - or about 66 per cent of the total population - having been fully vaccinated, Malaysia is currently in the process of vaccinating 3.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17.

As at Tuesday, 74.8 per cent of this group had received at least one dose.

Parents can now check the vaccination rates of both students and staff of individual schools on the CovidNow website.

"Transitioning to endemicity requires transparency, to empower all of society... MOE (Ministry of Education) and MOH (Ministry of Health) launched a 'School Search' feature on CovidNow. You can get the vax coverage of your child's school, not just for students, but for staff as well," Mr Khairy wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

"We hope this gives confidence and comfort to parents and teachers alike."

While some parents are wary about inoculating their younger children, many like Madam Katijah Rizal want their children to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

Madam Katijah, whose five-year-old child is the only one who is unvaccinated in her family of five, said she would not hesitate.

"Either you take the vaccination and risk potential side effects, or you don't take it and risk getting infected with Covid-19. He is the vulnerable one while we are trying to strike a balance between 'resuming normalcy' and staying protected," she told ST.

The Health Ministry reported 7,950 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the total infections to 2,361,529.

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