Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Parents are feeling the heat when the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) announced on 22 February that 10 children between the ages of five and 11 suffered severe adverse reaction to the mRNA vaccine.
Singapore has rolled out vaccination to kids of that age range from 27 December 2021.
Parents with children in that category are now finding themselves between a rock and a hard place after the HSA reported that a total of 280 adverse events have been identified.
The 10 cases, classified as “serious”, include symptoms of seizure, appendicitis, drop in blood pressure, allergic reaction, abnormal renal function and swelling of small blood vessels.
The more common but less severe side effects include swelling of eyelids, face or lips, fever, and shortness of breath.
Fortunately, instances of heart inflammation, which have been reported in four men, aged 18 to 30 after receiving their second dose of Covid-19 vaccine, have not been reported for children in this age group.
Adverse effects only a small per cent, says authorities
The HSA maintains that “the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine is still safe for use on persons aged 5 years and above”.
As at the end January, a total of 238,253 doses have been administered to children in this category.
The agency said with 280 adverse events reported, this works out to be 0.12 per cent of all administered doses. For serious adverse events, it is only 0.004 per cent of the total, it says.
The HSA went on to say that the reports do not “necessarily mean that the vaccine has caused these serious (adverse events) as they may be related to an underlying or undiagnosed disease, or it may be coincidental that they occurred around the same time that the vaccine was given”.
HSA added that “it is closely monitoring the (adverse events) reported in children and is assessing them in the context of background incidence rates”.
Expert: Parents should vaccinate the children as risks of infection outweigh side effects
Infectious disease specialist Leong Hoe Nam advises parents to vaccinate their children even after pondering over the risk of side effects, “because the risk of disease is higher”.
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In his TikTik video, Dr Leong explains that when children get infected by Covid-19, they run the risk of the inflammation of the heart “at about 0.1 per cent and Multi-system Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) at about 1 in 6,000 to 8,000”.
“There is also the risk of diabetes at 2.5 times. On the other hand, if children are vaccinated, the risk of myocarditis drops to 1 in 100,000. The risk of MIS-C decreases by 91 per cent, and there is no association between vaccine and diabetes,” he says.
“Vaccination is not zero risk, but it is a negligible risk”, says Dr Leong, adding that he appreciates that “when it (adverse side effects) happens to them, it is all the risk in the world”.
In the video Dr Leong cites the example of an overhead bridge.
“Why do we use the overhead bridge to cross the expressway? Because it is safer. Does it mean I won’t fall when I climb or come down, or a trailer won’t hit the bridge over?”
Dr Leong feels that “every child should be vaccinated as young as possible, but only after the vaccines are proven to be safe and effective”.
Dr Leong reminds that being unvaccinated runs the additional risk of long Covid that might persist long after the patient has recovered from the initial infection.
What parents say
TheHomeGround Asia speaks to several parents with children in the five to 11 age group to understand their concerns in deciding whether or not to inoculate them.
Ms Ang Chiew Ting, whose daughter turns seven this year, says she will still let the girl take her second jab as “we were lucky enough to be on the over 99 per cent side which did not suffer from any adverse reactions after the first jab”.
“If the kids are unvaccinated and end up contracting Covid, they might get more serious symptoms. In studies on those with long Covid, both kids and adults have difficulty concentrating on work and studies, and that is worse in the long-term,” adds the mother of three.
However, Ms Ang says she understands the fear that some parents might have as she herself waited until the last moment before getting vaccinated. The fact that her daughter will be in contact with more people while attending primary school, was the deciding factor for her to “pick the lesser of two evils”.
Mr Dyon Yeo, whose son will be turning five soon, is relieved that he “still has some time to take a wait-and-see approach” while other parents whose children have turned five “went ahead with their vaccination first”. Although he feels that it is an extremely small minority that suffered the severe side effects, there are simply too many unknowns at this point in time.
The 29-year-old adds that, “It has yet to be determined if the serious reactions are a result of the vaccine or other reasons as well. And there is also the unknown of whether there are other serious long-term side effects that will only appear years down the road”.