Vaccine not a free pass for kids

PETALING JAYA: Vaccination will provide higher protection against Covid-19 for children, but that does not mean that they can move around freely without risk of infection.

Vaccinated or not, the safest place is still the home, say health experts.

Vaccination, combined with strict adherence to standard operating procedures (SOP), is the best way to protect children against Covid-19.

There is no doubt that parents should take their children for vaccination now that it has been made available for those aged 12 to 17, said Universiti Malaya Department of Social and Preventive Medicine public health medicine specialist Dr Nik Daliana Nik Farid.

Vaccination for teens in Malaysia began this week, with the option for them to walk in at selected centres for their shots without the need to register for an appointment.

The Health Ministry is hoping to have at least 80% of children in this age group fully vaccinated before the 2022 school year starts.

“Children who are infected can transmit the infection to other children in the same neighbourhood. Vaccination is therefore the best way to protect the community,” Nik Daliana said.

However, she stressed that there are several other steps that must also be taken to ensure safety.

“Make sure children observe the SOP strictly, including frequently washing their hands.”

She said they should also learn to practise respiratory etiquette by covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and to wear an age-appropriate face mask.

“If there is a need to engage in physical activities, try sports like biking, hiking or running where it is easier to ensure social distancing. The mask is also essential.

“Avoid bringing children to public indoor spaces where the ventilation is poor and there is no inflow of fresh air from outside,” she added.

Nik Daliana also warned that the risk of being infected is higher when dining inside a restaurant where there is poor air circulation.

“I strongly advise against bringing unvaccinated children to dine out.”

She said although there have been cases of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining outside the heart) among those who have had the Pfizer shots, such cases are very rare.

For children aged five and below, Nik Daliana said a doctor’s advice should be sought before putting them on a diet of Vitamins C and D and Zinc.

“Clinical trials are still being conducted, but the evidence is not convincing. In the end, it may do more harm than good.”

Universiti Putra Malaysia professor of Human Development and Family Studies Dr Rumaya Juhari said parents may have reasons for taking their children out despite being aware that it is unsafe.

“They may have been overwhelmed by the desire to go for a vacation or they think that their children need a break from being cooped up at home,” she said.

“This is highly risky and parents should take into consideration the potential consequences and be extra cautious.”

Rumaya disagreed that it is safe for parents to take their children out for some fun just because most economic sectors have been reopened.

“Remember that while adults are vaccinated, most children are not. The new strains may put children at higher risk.”

She said parents should make safety their first priority.

“If your children are bored, engage them in some fun activities such as game night, or set a different routine.”

Clinical psychologist Dr Joel Low said parents should learn to strike a balance between keeping the family safe and providing a healthy release from the tension of being stuck indoors for too long.

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