15,540 children aged below 12 had Covid-19 in S'pore in 2021

Since mid-October last year, Singapore has seen several serious cases of Covid-19 in children, with some requiring intensive care. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - About a fifth of the 15,540 children aged below 12 who were infected with Covid-19 last year had been in a hospital or Covid-19 facility.

None of these 3,145 children remain hospitalised as at last Saturday (Jan 8), said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary in an update on Monday in Parliament.

He said that since mid-October last year, Singapore has seen several serious cases of Covid-19 in children, with some requiring intensive care.

"Although fewer children have been seriously ill with Covid-19 compared with adults, there is still a risk of them becoming seriously ill or developing severe Covid-19 complications such as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C)," said Dr Janil.

As at last Friday, about 123,000 children aged five to 11 have received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine or booked their appointments, since vaccination for younger children began last month.

Dr Janil said the Ministry of Health (MOH) has not received any report of "serious adverse events or myocarditis from vaccination in children in Singapore" as at last Friday. The ministry will continue to monitor the vaccination exercise closely, he added.

On boosters, he said there are currently no recommendations for children to get these shots. "If introduced, MOH will continue to ensure that families with children are able to access vaccination services in a convenient manner," he said.

Responding to MPs on the Covid-19 vaccine jab's potential side effects for children, Dr Janil cited international data to show there have not been safety concerns thus far.

In the United States - where about 8.7 million doses had been administered to children as at Dec 19 - most of the adverse events reported were not serious and no safety concerns had been raised.

Dr Janil said 2.4 per cent of the children who had reported adverse events experienced serious reactions such as fever, vomiting, seizures and myocarditis, which is heart inflammation.

"The incidence of myocarditis, which is what many parents are most concerned about, is about one in a million doses. The children reported with myocarditis following vaccination had either recovered or were recovering at the time of the report."

He gave the assurance that all 15 designated paediatric vaccination centres are equipped with monitoring and resuscitation equipment, and the medical personnel are trained to manage any on-site emergencies arising from allergic reactions.

"Most side effects experienced by children after vaccination have been mild, such as injection site pain, fatigue and fever, and would typically resolve in a few days," he said.

Currently, only the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine is authorised for use in children aged below 18 years. Special exemptions are made for those aged 12 to 17 who are not medically eligible for this vaccine to receive the Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine.

Dr Janil said MOH will work with the Expert Committee for Covid-19 Vaccination to review if this exemption can be extended to children aged five to 11 who are medically ineligible to complete the Pfizer vaccine regimen.

As at last Thursday, less than 4 per cent of young people aged 12 to 19, or 14,097 individuals, remain unvaccinated. Fourteen of them are medically ineligible for the PfizerBioNTech/Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine.

In a supplementary question, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said that some parents may not be “anti-vaccination” and have been fully vaccinated but are apprehensive about administering mRNA vaccines to their children.

“Will MOH allow such parents to wait until non-mRNA protein-based vaccines are approved for their children’s inoculation so as to give them more choice and to assuage their concerns?” he asked.

The Aljunied GRC MP also asked if Singapore can expect the protein-based Novavax vaccine, or any other non-mRNA vaccines, to be authorised for the use of children above the age of 12.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the Novavax vaccine is currently being assessed by the Health Sciences Authority.

“I think we need to let the scientists do their work. And I think we should consider putting it into our national vaccination programme. We have always wanted a portfolio of mRNA and non-mRNA vaccines,” he added.

But it will take time for Novavax to be approved, and there will be another set of processes to assess if it is suitable for children, said Mr Ong.

In the face of Omicron, he advised parents to get their children vaccinated. “We do not want to rule out that even a small percentage of children can get very sick, we might be looking at a significant absolute number,” he said.

“But I think given the circumstances, cost and benefit, I think it is the right thing to do now, to get your child vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

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