A Minor Concern: What is Happening with Covid-19 Vaccinations for those Under 18?
With schools in Southeast Asia bound for reopening (or have already opened for in-person lessons for countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam), here are some Covid-19 vaccination news that parents, teachers and students should keep up with.
Malaysia is set to reopen schools on the 3rd of October, and its Ministry of Health advises vaccinating schoolchildren aged 12 onwards as an effort to protect those that cannot be vaccinated.
For those under 12, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin says that the best course of action is to ensure that the adult population at schools are fully vaccinated. The minister says the vaccine will be offered first for adolescents that are afflicted with underlying medical conditions, followed by those that are healthy from oldest to youngest.
Sarawak, as of 8th September, is following the same game plan, and has already rolled out Covid-19 jabs for its teenagers ahead of school reopenings. The next state to join in on this plan will be Penang, towards the end of September. Klang Valley and Labuan are to follow suit.
In order to lower transmission, Education Minister Radzi Jidin has shared that only states in phases 3 and 4 of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) are allowed to reopen schools at a maximum capacity of 50%. While the first half attends classes in person, the second half will attend virtually—and these two groups rotate their attendance on a weekly basis.
20th September Update:
As part of our strategy for ‘opening safely’ vaccinations for teenagers will be expanded further. We target 60% of teenagers to be vaccinated by end November and 80% by early January. pic.twitter.com/5wdD28icna
— Khairy Jamaluddin 🇲🇾🌺 (@Khairykj) September 20, 2021
Educational institutions are now able to register themselves to join the Covid-19 vaccination program, says Khairy Jamaluddin’s special officer. Schools and other educational institutions may do so via the Vaksin-Anak-Ku portal, vaksinanakku.herokuapp.com.
On top of that, the minister mentions that as of 16th September, 85,000 teens have received their first jab without any serious side effects.
Thailand, on the other hand, is in preparation for a pilot programme for 68 boarding and private schools to reopen. The kingdom is looking into vaccinating children sometime next year, as they are awaiting the vaccine supplies to arrive.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul will be proposing the administration of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 and above to allow them to go back to school.
20th September Update:
Last week, Thailand’s FDA approved the use of the Moderna vaccine for teenagers between 12 to 17 years old.
The island nation has reopened schools since the end of June 2021, allowing some students to go back to attend in-person classes.
The health ministry also calls for those who have passed their 12th birthday to get immunised in order to keep themselves and others safe.
As their September holidays draw to a close, primary school children will be given three Covid-19 self-test kits so as to minimise any transmission. Singapore’s Education Minister, Chan Chun Sing, is using a four-pronged approach in order to keep their students safe, which includes keeping unwell children at home, safe management measures at schools, and ring-fencing known Covid-19 cases and contacts.
20th September Update:
Last Saturday, the education ministry shifted primary schoolchildren to home-based learning ahead of a key national examination. This move is a result of the country’s new Covid-19 cases, which was reported to be at 935, the highest since April 2020.
4. The Philippines
In the Philippines, where there has been no news on when the country will reopen schools, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has renewed its call for a safe and phased reopening of educational institutions.
According to the country’s Department of Education’s official statement, the conduct of face-to-face classes, whether in partial or full-scale, will still not be allowed unless permitted by the President. As of now, schools will start their 2021-2022 year on the 13th of September, fully online.
The country’s Department of Health noted that further studies are required before they can move forward with inoculating those under 18.
As recently as last week, Jakarta reopened 600 of its schools after Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed. The country has already begun to vaccinate schoolchildren aged 12 to 17, and has already vaccinated almost 8% of the age group’s population.
The country has suffered the brunt of the Delta variant and has seen some of the world’s highest children Covid-19 casualties.
On the 1st September, around 2 million students in Hanoi virtually returned to school, with the school year expected to end by May 2022.
However, before the new school year kicked off, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh called for the relevant ministries to vaccinate children so that the school year can continue smoothly. In his call to action, he referenced Singapore’s success at keeping schools open through their national vaccination programme and their adherence to Covid-19-related SOPs.
What does the WHO say on inoculating children?
In July 2021, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) concluded that the Pfizer/BionTech vaccine is suitable for use by people aged 12 years and above. However, WHO’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan noted in a video that due to the limited supplies of vaccines available in the country, the advice is to prioritise the vaccination of frontline workers and health care workers.
“Though they can get infected with Covid-19 and they can transmit the infection to others, [children] are at much lower risk of getting severe disease compared to older adults. We have to remember the fact that it’s not necessary that children must get the vaccine before they can go back to school. We’ve seen in many countries that schools have been kept open very successfully [where the adults are fully vaccinated,” says Dr. Soumya in the video.
What about the United States and the United Kingdom?
Despite Dr. Soumya’s recommendation, the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is already suggesting the vaccination of those aged 12 and above. For the American landscape, this might be a feasible option, as the country has already inoculated 54% of its population.
In Southeast Asia, as of today, only Singapore and Malaysia have passed the 50% threshold. Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand all have vaccination rates of about 15%, with Vietnam lagging behind at only 4%. Therefore, these countries might still focus on protecting their health care workers and front liners.
Over in the United Kingdom, its Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) assessed the situation and advised to only vaccinate 12-15-year-olds with specific underlying conditions. According to Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair of Covid-19 Immunisation for the JCVI said: “For otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-old children, their risk of severe COVID-19 disease is small and therefore the potential for benefit from COVID-19 vaccination is also small.”
However, the UK’s chief medical officers have recently announced that youngsters in England will be offered the vaccine this coming week, according to BBC. This suggestion was made in hopes to reduce disruption to children’s education.