Is COVID vaccination must for all children? Doctors seek more data

The news of a COVID vaccine for children above the age of 12 in the first week of October came as a relief for parents who are worried about the safety of their wards and development of their learning skills. However, the most vital question is: Do children really need a vaccine?

There are about 120 million (12 crore) children in India in the age group of 12 to 17.

Studies conducted in the United States of America point towards the need of extensive research before administering vaccination for children less than 18 years of age. According to reports published by American Academy of Paediatrics, the fatality rate as well as the rate of hospitalisation is seemingly low among children.

On the other side, the study indicates that child cases have increased exponentially in the US after declining early this year, with over a four-fold increase, rising from about 38,000 cases the week ending July 22 to 180,000 the past week. Since the pandemic began, children represented 14.6% of total cumulated cases in the US. Though there is a rising trend among children, it appears that severe illness due to COVID-19 is uncommon in children.

Also read: Third wave likely in Oct: Are we prepared to treat our children?

Following are the major findings brought by the American Academy of Paediatrics:

  1. About 4.59 lakh COVID-19 cases reported, and children represented 14.6% of all cases. A total of 6,103 out of 100,000 children in the population got infected.

2. Rising trend of positivity among children. About 180,175 child COVID-19 cases were reported in the past week (from 12th to 19th August) and children represented 22.4% (180,175/806,003) of the weekly reported cases.

3. Over two weeks (5th to 19th August) there was a 7% increase in the cumulated number of child COVID-19 cases. 1.6 to 3.6 per cent of the total cumulated cases of hospitalization are in children. Among the children tested positive, only  0.2 to 1.9 per cent required hospitalisation.

4. Among the total number of COVID deaths, only 0.22 per cent was children. Out of 49 states in the US, 7 reported zero child deaths.

“We have to take several factors into consideration before arriving at a conclusion.  We can see that the infectivity is rising among children globally, but the severity and mortality is very low,” said a doctor at ‘Info Clinic’ — a platform for the collective of doctors pursuing public health.

Also read: Union minister slams Kerala govt for ‘failed COVID strategy’

“Different countries adopt different strategies. For example, the UK has not yet taken the decision for universal vaccination for children, on the other hand, Canada has started providing vaccination to the under 18 population,” stated a recent article written by a team of doctors at Info Clinic.

“India needs further research and trials and needs to formulate a policy in this. In our experience, we see that fatality and severity is very low among children. So the obvious question is whether we need a universal vaccination for children,” says Dr Mohandas, a paediatrician at Government Medical College, Kozhikode. “On the contrary, any vaccination programme achieves the mission only if it is administered universally. Around 25 per cent of our population constitutes children. So it is sceptical whether we can keep 25 per cent of the population out of it,” he adds.

A closer look at the pattern of infectivity and further research is very pertinent before going into the vaccination programme for children, say experts.

Also read: Vaccination must; it reduces severity, mortality rate of COVID-19: Experts

“What we need is transparency in providing data,” says Dr Jinesh P S  of Info Clinic. “We need to know how many children got infected, the rate of severity and fatality etc. We also need to know whether the children who succumbed to COVID and those who got severe, had co-morbidities. There is a need to evaluate this data. Besides, the governments should disclose the findings of clinical trials among children. Then only can we formulate a policy on vaccination among children,” says Dr Jinesh.

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