Why we need to talk about Covid vaccine & children

By Indira Laisram
Representational image only // Photo by Taylor Brandon on Unsplash

Ten-year old Akash*, who goes to a school in Melton, is not vaccinated. His mother Supriya* says she is happy with not going ahead with it, unless, of course, it becomes compulsory. In the past few months, the family has also travelled to India for a few months and got back to Australia without, thankfully, any health issues.

Like Supriya, few other families that the Indian Sun spoke to said, on condition of anonymity, they have been a watching around (how others are going in terms of after-effect) before they vaccinate their children. They also added that “winters is not a good time to vaccinate”.

“We were a bit hesitant towards the vaccine for our child but now my wife is a bit open about it and wants to go ahead. I am still making up my mind, to be very honest,” says another parent.

However, Glen Waverley-based mother Fatima* says she waited for a while but after a few months got all her three children, including the youngest who is six years-old, vaccinated. “I just wanted the protection because kids can get really sick,” she says, adding, “They had their flu shots prior, so they were OK and the youngest toughened up seeing his older brother.”

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends that everyone aged five years and above gets a COVID-19 vaccine to help protect against the virus. Data as of 7 July shows that over 56 percent of children aged five to 11 years in the state have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the NEMBC Multilingual News Service.

So why are some parents still hesitant when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine? In a study, JAMA Network Open, a monthly open access medical journal published by the American Medical Association, cites the main reason being the relatively newness of the vaccine itself and the fact that today’s parents are flooded with social media and internet messages leading to misinformation and mistrust.

Perhaps the lackadaisical attitude among some parents can also be attributed to the fact (going by reports) that young children in the demographics are less likely than the adult population to become a category of risk from a medical perspective. That having said, health authorities and experts believe vaccination is the best way to help prevent children from getting very sick, particularly for children at greater risk.

According to the government’s Department of Health and Aged Care, the other reason to consider vaccination is because of the indirect benefits to your child.

“Vaccination might help prevent school closures and disruptions to extra-curricular activities. School and activities are important for kids’ general wellbeing. Vaccination of children could also help your family and community through reduced spread of the virus,” it states.

Whether all children under 12 years of age should be vaccinated against COVID-19 remains a debatable issue. The British Medical Journal, in a review (Volume 107, Issue 3) reports, “the relatively low risk posed by acute COVID-19 in children, and uncertainty about the relative harms from vaccination and disease mean that the balance of risk and benefit of vaccination in this age group is more complex”.

But with the emergence of new COVID-19 variants of concern, what becomes necessary is regular re-evaluation of the risks and benefits. The Review does not argue for or against vaccinating children, but draws attention to the complexity of policy decisions on COVID-19 vaccination in children under 12 years of age.

The emergence of new variants and intermittent surges is more or less the new normal today. Therefore, the key argument for vaccinating children is the protection from long-term consequences, the BMJ report says.

As for vaccinating children below six-years of age and infants, Victoria’s Acting Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie says, “There is an ongoing exploration of the relative use of vaccinations among children knowing that there are younger age groups available for vaccination in some countries. Our colleagues in the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) are continuously reviewing and may well be the case when we have more information on paediatric vaccination.”

Meanwhile, parents such as Supriya are content with what the school and authorities are doing with regards to children’s safety against the virus. For instance, if at school a child contracts the virus, an email is sent out from the school so that everyone observes quarantine. On top of that, the family receives four RAT kits free of cost a month where every alternate week Akash gets a test to go to school.

Children, she says, are drilled into practising hand washing or no handshakes. “Even at the playground, they are by now aware of COVID-safe behaviours and taught to stay far from anyone with a cold without being offensive.”

Supriya cites an incident where a child who was once coughing was asked by another friend whether he had his RAT test done. “They are encouraged to speak openly,” she says, adding, “I think some parents think as long as they can help it, they will delay the vaccination.”

Perhaps the pandemic has taught children autonomy at a young age, but experts are encouraging parents to talk to doctors for any concerns regarding vaccination. Australia is headed for a new wave of the virus and protection against it is priority, say experts.

(*Names changed for reasons of privacy)

The Indian Sun acknowledges the support of the Victorian Government.

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