Amid concerns over children getting infected with coronavirus as schools reopened, health experts said that there was no need to panic, as they mostly have mild illnesses and recover with just symptomatic treatment.
However, the experts stressed that the children who are eligible to get vaccinated against COVID must get the jab.
The health experts said that consistent and appropriate use of masks, implementation of a standard protocol for sanitisation and hand washing, are the key pillars of COVID-appropriate behaviour.
“There is no need to panic as data from past waves have clearly shown that children, even if they contract COVID-19, have mild illness and recover spontaneously with just symptomatic treatment,” AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria told PTI.
“Therefore, eligible children should take the vaccine. But then even those who have not been vaccinated should not panic, as chances of them getting a severe infection is very low,” Dr. Guleria said.
Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a physician-epidemiologist and public health specialist said, “We need to remember that the (news of) children contracting COVID is getting some attention because schools are open. However, even when schools were closed an estimated 70 to 90 per cent of children had already got the infection as we know through various seroprevalence surveys.”
“It is known that children are as susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection just like adults. But COVID infections among children are mild and mostly asymptomatic, Dr. Lahariya said.
“This situation has not altered with the emergence of any subsequent variant. Even with new variants children continue to be at low risk. There is no reason to be concerned about some reports of a few children testing COVID positive in a few schools,” Dr. Lahariya said.
“At this stage of the pandemic, empowered with scientific and epidemiological knowledge and understanding, COVID-19 infection should not be a concern. The outcome of the infection should be criteria for decision making,” Dr Lahariya said.
Additional Director General of ICMR Dr. Samiran Panda pointed out that global evidence suggests schools as “non-drivers” of COVID transmission in the community. “Consistent and appropriate use of masks, implementation of a standard protocol for sanitization and hand washing must be practised by students and school staff alike,” he said.
“While masks are not recommended for children under five years, six to 11-year-olds may wear a mask depending on their ability to use them safely and appropriately. Those aged 12 years and above should wear masks under the same conditions as adults,” Dr. Panda said.
Dr. Panda stressed that schools should ensure the indoors are well-ventilated and air conditioners should be avoided. Exhaust fans should be installed in classrooms to curtail the potential spread of infection. Also, children should be advised against sharing meals and spending long hours in canteens or dining halls.
“There is ample evidence to suggest that children aged one to 17 years old have similar susceptibility to a mild form of COVID-19 as adults. However, the risk of severe disease and mortality among children is much less compared to adults,” Dr Panda said.
Dr. Nameet Jerath, Senior Consultant, Pediatric Intensive Care, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi said that all the children who are eligible for COVID vaccination should be encouraged by their parents for getting inoculated.
“COVID vaccines are important for the children (based on the eligibility criteria) to build an immunity against the virus. Parents need to note that any child who has a reported history of COVID should wait for at least three months, post the infection for taking the vaccination,” the doctor said.
“Also, parents should consult a paediatrician before vaccination if a child is allergic to any medication. Post-vaccination, mild fever and pain in the arm can be reported but that can be treated by paracetamol, only if required. A child should not be given paracetamol before vaccination,” Dr. Jerath said.
(With inputs from Agencies)