KUALA LUMPUR - When Malaysia first rolled out Covid-19 vaccination for children aged 5 to 11 earlier this month, Mr Chuah Su Choon hesitated to vaccinate his six-year-old daughter.
The father of four, who works in a digital marketing agency, was initially worried about the vaccine's potential side effects among children.
However, after a number of Covid-19 cases cropped up in his daughter's school, he changed his mind and took her to get the vaccine two weeks ago.
"I registered early on but had thoughts of hesitation as the vaccine is still new," the 43-year-old told The Straits Times.
"Rising numbers encouraged me to do it, especially with a lot of cases in my children's school, and advice from my paediatrician that it is okay."
Housewife Nadiah Rosli, 39, was also initially wary of inoculating her 10-year-old daughter.
"When the vaccine was first made available to children, there were so many unverified reports being shared, of children dying from the vaccine," she said.
"But after my friends had their kids vaccinated, I saw they had no side effects. I also looked at the data and there were no serious side effects reported. I felt confident then to get my daughter vaccinated."
Amid rising numbers of infections, particularly in schools and among children, vaccination registrations have surged for the 5 to 11 age group - from about 15 per cent on Feb 3 when the programme was rolled out, to 28 per cent on Monday (Feb 21).
A total of 92 Covid-19 clusters were reported in schools in Week 7 of 2022, compared to 61 clusters recorded the week before that, health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said on Tuesday (Feb 22).
"Hope that parents will no longer take a wait-and-see approach (to vaccinate their children) as the rate of hospitalisation for children is starting to rise," Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin tweeted on Monday:
He shared a graph showing that the hospitalisation rates for children under 11 in categories 1 to 5 had climbed since Jan 31, with bed utilisation at more than 200 beds as at last Thursday.
Categories 1 and 2 refer to patients who are asymptomatic and have mild symptoms respectively.
Category 3 involves those with lung infection, Category 4 refers to those with lung infection requiring oxygen, while Category 5 refers to critical cases with organ damage and requiring ventilator assistance.
More than 50,000 children below 12 have been infected since January, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.
On the increase in daily Covid-19 bed usage among children, Dr Noor Hisham said in a statement: "The increase is seen more significantly in February, especially for cases in Category 2 to Category 5. This is probably due to transmission of the Omicron variant as well as increased movement of children following the reopening of schools and childcare centres."
He said although Covid-19 infection in children is usually less severe compared with adults, there are cases that require hospitalisation and intensive care.
"Multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) is a critical condition that could occur due to a Covid-19 infection, in which there is inflammation of internal organs, especially the heart, lungs, and brain," he said.
"From June 2020 to December 2021, there were 174 cases of children under 18 who suffered from MIS-C, of which 57 per cent are below 12. To date, seven children have died due to MIS-C," said Dr Noor Hisham, adding that children are also at risk of suffering from long Covid-19.
In Malaysia, only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use among kids aged five to 11.
The paediatric dose of the vaccine is being given as a two-dose regime with an eight-week interval.
Since Feb 3, almost 16 per cent of some 3.6 million children aged five to 11 have received the first dose of the vaccine as at Monday.
So far, eight instances of side effects have been reported, with all cases experiencing mild effects including swelling at the injection site.
Up to last year, 278,000 children and teenagers below 17 were infected with Covid-19. Sixty-three of them were reported to have died.
Malaysia recorded 25,099 new Covid-19 cases on Monday.