Brunei Darussalam will start vaccinating children aged 12 to 17 once the Pfizer vaccine arrives in the country. An estimated 40,000 children are eligible to receive the vaccine.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) is working with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) to ensure the smooth operation of vaccination among children to be carried out at vaccination centres nationwide.
Head of School Health Services and Senior Medical Officer at the MoH Dr Siti Rosemawati binti Haji Md Yussof and Head of Paediatric Services at the MoH Dr Hajah Rohayati binti Haji Mohd Taib addressed parents’ concern regarding the vaccination of children during a press conference yesterday.
On the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine for children, Dr Hajah Rohayati said, “Considering vaccination for individuals above the age of 12, the MoH has looked at the safety and effectiveness of vaccines used for children around the world in clinical trials. We recommend children to be immunised for three reasons – direct benefits to children; benefit for the broader population; and children’s mental health and well-being.
“We are aware that the effects of COVID-19 among young people are less severe, so we prioritised age groups that are the most vulnerable. We also know from evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine has strong immunogenicity and strong vaccine efficacy for coronavirus asymptomatic infection in children who received the mRNA vaccine.”
Despite the infection being lower among children, she said, “Four to six per cent of children can get severely ill from COVID-19. We know that the vaccine has undergone stringent safety trials and efficacy data.
“Phase three between 12 to 15 years was studied in over 2,000 children and showed that the vaccine is effective against asymptomatic COVID-19 infection seven days after two doses by about 100 per cent with no reported cases of infection in the vaccine group. The antibodies response was higher compared to the older population.”
“We currently cannot vaccinate children under 10 so by vaccinating children ages 11 to 17, we can protect those who cannot be vaccinated,” she added.
On the broader population benefit, Dr Hajah Rohayati said, “Once adults are vaccinated, vulnerable children will become the higher proportion of infection in the community contributing to transmission. We have seen this happen in other countries and we don’t want this to happen in Brunei. We don’t want our children to be under strict measures forever.”
As for the children’s mental health and well-being for education, she said, “Our aim for getting the children vaccinated is to anticipate as little disruption to education as possible. We want to reduce potential transmission and outbreak in schools.
“Children have not been in school for a while. What are the long-term effects, the psycho social effects and the impact of non-face-to-face education?
“So vaccinating children and school staff offers benefits to mitigating the risk of infection. There will be less disruption to sports, which is good for the children’s well-being. Organised activities and socialising are also key to their mental and physical stability.”
Meanwhile, Dr Siti Rosemawati said, “Over 70 countries have utilised the Pfizer vaccine including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US), Australia and New Zealand.”
She also said children with severe allergies to the ingredients in the vaccine will not be able to receive it.
On whether children who contracted COVID-19 need to be vaccinated, she said, “They will have developed immunity against infections in the future. However, we don’t know how long the immunity will stay, so they will need to be vaccinated.”
By administering two doses of the vaccine, it will be effective in protecting children and the public from getting infected with the coronavirus in the future, according to a study.
Whether Sinopharn will also be used to vaccinate children, Dr Hajah Rohayati said, “Sinopharm is an effective vaccine. As technical committee, we want to administer the vaccine that was most studied. We must take evidence into account.”
Addressing the report of severe side effects like myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), Dr Hajah Rohayati said, “It’s rare to experience mild inflammation of the heart. It only picked up after millions of children were vaccinated, mostly in boys and after second dose. It is mild and goes away by itself or after medication.
“Myocarditis caused by COVID-19 is much higher. The benefit of Pfizer outweighs the small risk of mild myocarditis.”
She also dispelled the myth that the vaccines cause infertility. “Studies have shown there is no effect.”
On booster shots for children, Dr Siti Rosemawati said “There is no indication for booster shots for children yet. The MoH is reviewing the evolving situation. If there are any updates, the public will be informed.”
In preparation for the 12- to 17-year-olds, she said, “The MoH has been in discussions with the MoE and MoRA to prepare the list of names and dates of birth. Parents must provide information needed by the schools for a smooth vaccination process. It is mandatory for children to have Bru-HIMS for the vaccination. In addition, a consent letter will be distributed to schools for parents to sign for their children to get inocculated.”
She also highlighted the importantce of children with non-communicable diseases to be vaccinated as they are of higher risk.