Vaccination needed to protect kids from possible exposure to Covid-19, risk of severe complications: Janil

The Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine has been approved for children aged five to 11 in Singapore. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Children are exposed to possible infections in spaces like pre-schools as they interact and play with one another, underscoring the importance of getting young ones vaccinated against Covid-19.

Hence, vaccination will not only help to prevent them from falling severely ill but also protect their family members, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary.

He was speaking to The Straits Times on Monday (Dec 20) in a virtual interview, ahead of plans to begin vaccinating children by year end.

The Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine is the first Covid-19 shot that has been approved for children aged five to 11 in Singapore. From the end of this month, Primary 3 to 5 children will be able to get their first jab, with younger ones following suit early next year.

The vaccination exercise will involve more than 300,000 children.

Said Dr Janil: "Our children spend a lot of time in settings like pre-schools with other kids. And in places like pre-schools and schools, transmission of infections spreads quickly because the children interact, that's what they're there for.

"But this risk of getting an infection through these spaces means that they can take infections home to their family members, including those who are vaccinated and older and at risk like their grandparents."

He added: "So by helping these five to 11-year-old children with a vaccination, we're helping not just to protect them from the severe effects of Covid-19, we're also helping to protect the rest of their family."

Dr Janil noted that the eight cases of myocarditis, a type of heart muscle inflammation, that were reported overseas recently in children aged 5-11 who received the Pfizer vaccine were mild.

"That US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention report looked at seven million doses administered... In a way, it's an example of just how closely we're monitoring these seven million doses in the five to 11 age group," he said.

The key finding is that these eight cases were all mild, Dr Janil said, whereas there have been cases of children here developing severe complications such as multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) as a result of Covid-19.

MIS-C is a condition where different body parts, including the heart, lungs, kidney, brain and eyes, can become inflamed.

These recent MIS-C cases have shown that there is still a risk of serious complications and requiring healthcare or even possibly intensive care for children, even if most children get a mild form of Covid-19, he said.

"With care, these children get better, but (it would be) even better if we can prevent them from having the severe form of disease, and that's what the vaccination does," he added.

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Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Health, who is also a paediatrician, addresses questions parents may have regarding the safety of Covid-19 vaccination for younger children.

Reassuring parents who are concerned about long-term side effects, Dr Janil said: "We've had vaccinations for children for many, many years. What you don't have is that you give the vaccination at the age of five, and then 10 years later, at the age of 15, something happens... Our bodies and vaccinations don't work like that.

"If you get a side effect, it may last you for some time, but you find out the side effect very shortly after getting a vaccination."

He added: "The side effects are mild, you recover very quickly. We have absolutely no reason to believe or have data to suggest that there's any risk of long term side effects."

He encouraged parents to treat the Covid-19 vaccination as any other childhood immunisation.

"We need the parents to come in and we hope that they will be part of the process, help to reassure the children and help to keep them calm," he said.

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"For many children around the world, Covid-19 has disrupted their education. It has disrupted their social lives, their co-curricular activities, and we want to preserve those opportunities for our children," said Dr Janil.

"And getting vaccinated is going to be an important part of that."

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