SINGAPORE - Parents remain concerned about the Covid-19 vaccine after the inoculation exercise for children aged five to 11 started more than a week ago.
Among top worries are the vaccine's long-term effects, as well as the children's eligibility for the jab if they have allergies or other underlying conditions such as eczema.
About 1,300 parents submitted more than 900 questions at a webinar on Wednesday evening (Jan 5) held by the Ministry of Education (MOE), together with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).
Some asked if they would get government support if their child experiences medically serious side effects because of the vaccine, whether Singapore is considering non-mRNA vaccines for children and whether schools will introduce vaccination-differentiated measures.
Dr Derrick Heng, deputy director of medical services in MOH's public health group, said the chances of any serious vaccine-related injury such as myocarditis, or heart inflammation, are low.
Based on data from the 8.7 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine that have been administered to children in the United States, only 11 cases of myocarditis were found.
Dr Heng said: "Nevertheless, if that should unfortunately happen, the child will be eligible for subsidy that the Government provides, plus MediSave, MediShield and MediFund. In addition, for serious injury, there's also the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme, which actually provides a lump sum to the child."
In response to questions about the purpose of the form that parents sign for their child to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, he said it is "not an indemnity form".
"It's a consent form, no different from the many consent forms that you have signed for your child when it comes to vaccination, or even out-of-school activities... or other medical procedures," said Dr Heng. "It's not something out of the ordinary that we created specially for the Covid-19 vaccine."
Dr Heng added: "The aim basically is to ensure that the parent has read the accompanying information sheet so that he or she is aware of the benefits as well as the potential risks of the vaccine, and make an informed choice for the child."
As at Dec 30, more than 4.2 million children aged five to 11 in the US have been fully vaccinated, and most side effects reported have been mild to moderate.
Dr Chan Si Min, head and senior consultant of the division of paediatric infectious diseases at Khoo Teck Puat-National University Children's Medical Institute in the National University Hospital, said children in this age group tend to have fewer side effects such as fever, compared with older people.
"What parents should most commonly expect is that about six in 10 children who have had the vaccine will have some kind of local arm pain after getting the injection," she said. "Less commonly so, about three to four in 10 children will also develop some tiredness, muscle ache, headache and fever."
Dr Chan added: "Generally these symptoms are transient. They last one or two days, and then they go away completely after that."
Based on the knowledge of the vaccine's biology and how it works, there are no expectations of long-term side effects, she said.
"The mRNA component itself breaks down on its own within a couple of days. So within two to three days, the mRNA is completely gone. The spike protein that the mRNA produces does not actually cause any infection," she added.
Dr Heng said MOH is looking at making other vaccines available for children, similar to what has been done for adults. Currently, the only approved vaccine for children aged five to 11 in Singapore is the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty jab.
But most of the trials for alternative vaccines are in fairly early stages, and it is unlikely that data will be out any time soon, he said.
In response to questions, Mr Tony Low, MOE's zonal director of schools in the east, and Ms Bernadette Alexander, ECDA's director of regulation and standards, said that schools and pre-schools currently do not have plans to introduce vaccination-differentiated measures for children.
Mr Low said: "But when the time comes (and) when we introduce more activities, and activities that may be of higher risk to the unvaccinated students, we will find practical ways for them to be meaningfully involved and participate in these activities.
"It is really our priority to ensure that all students have access to their core curriculum and enjoy holistic education."