NEW DELHI – Take Telangana, for example, where health officials recently determined that 37,332 children were infected with the virus between March and May 2021. This and the fact that 19,824 children were infected from August to November 2020 shows us how much we underestimated the effects of Covid-19 on children.
Compared to the first wave, the number of positive cases and their severity in children have increased this time. Why is this worrying?
This is in contrast to what was previously globally perceived that children will not suffer from the severe direct symptoms of the virus, the indirect impact on their lives and rights is a topic for another discussion.
Direct impact on children
The arrival of the mutated strain, delayed diagnosis and treatment, difficult access to health services, and lack of space for social distancing make children vulnerable. Children exhibit symptoms of high-grade fever, severe body aches, diarrhea, cough, and abdominal pain that require hospitalization. In some cases, children also show symptoms of multisystem inflammatory syndrome.
The fear of a third wave, which affects children more than adults, sets the alarm bells ringing. To protect children, the Union Ministry of Health has listed guidelines for the treatment of Covid-19 for people under the age of 18. According to the government, around 26 percent of people infected with Covid-19 in India since May 1 belong to the 18-30 age group.
Debate – is vaccination safe for children?
Vaccination for people over 18 in India was far from smooth as there have been reports of acute vaccine shortages and difficulties registering for vaccinations online. A conversation around the world about vaccinations for children has begun, with countries like the US taking the lead. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6,000,000 children between the ages of 12 and 15 in the United States have received the Pfizer syringe. Studies have shown that the vaccine is 100 percent effective in children of the same age group.
Canada, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates have also approved Pfizer’s emergency vaccine in the 12-15 age group. Moderna is currently conducting age de-escalation studies. Johnson & Johnson is planning the same.
Meanwhile, Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of Covaxin from Bharat Biotech for ages 2-18 will begin in India in June, with 525 volunteers galloping at AIIMS (Delhi and Patna) and the Meditrina Institute of Medical Sciences, Nagpur become. India is also developing nasal vaccines that could prove to be game changers. But these won’t be ready until next year.
Vaccination and Covid protocols for children
Before introducing vaccination to children, it is imperative that studies are carried out according to regulations and guidelines to prove the effectiveness of the vaccine and its safety. Instead of speeding up the process, protocols and standard norms must be followed.
At this point, equal access to an appropriate and effective vaccine is vital and it is up to world leaders to continue the dialogue on it. In the meantime, strict public health measures like social distancing, wearing masks, disinfecting hands and avoiding crowds must be maintained.
Vaccination alone cannot end the pandemic
Although vaccines for children can take some time to become available, early testing and detection are key to treating children with Covid and preventing hospitalization. At the same time, efforts must be made to empower hospitals and other health facilities to provide quality care to children who may need to be hospitalized. Treatment of the infection will depend on the severity of the case.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is hesitant vaccination as a large sample of the population is reluctant to receive the vaccine due to concerns about side effects or potential side effects and misinformation. especially when it comes to children. History shows that there has always been a hesitation in vaccination; The experience of polio eradication in India has shown how it is detrimental to the health of other children. An interesting fact: in the 19th century, Charles Dickens had published several essays in his weekly magazine Household Words advocating the smallpox vaccine and other public health initiatives.
India is not alone, many Americans are reluctant to get the Covid-19 vaccine and convince them that the U.S. government, states, and local businesses are offering all sorts of incentives. Free donuts, lottery tickets, cash prizes, free tickets to events and parks, even beer are offered. With fears looming of a third wave in India, it is important to vaccinate parents to make sure we are protecting our children.
Although perceptions change quickly, children are at lower risk of serious consequences from Covid-19. However, the infection can still affect children and can be passed on from infected family members. Although India has recently initiated vaccination trials for under 18s, it is imperative that our central and state government agencies conduct mass education campaigns in rural and semi-rural areas to combat vaccination hesitation. to protect the caregivers of children too
In addition, to destroy the myths and rumors about vaccinations and the ongoing studies, the government needs to compile data and share it on public forums for scientists, medical experts and parents to study.
In 2020 Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, said: “We are not just fighting a pandemic, we are fighting an infodemic.” Countries, health workers and scientists need accurate data to develop an effective response to control the pandemic.
“The first thing you can do is collect data about the transmission and its severity among teenagers and children in your district and analyze it regularly. I urge all officials to make an assessment themselves; this will help you prepare for the future. ”“ Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told district collectors and field workers in 10 states.
Government should ensure that data collection is disaggregated by gender, age and disability and prioritizes the most vulnerable and marginalized children, including orphans who live on the street, in childcare facilities, belong to migrant families, refugees and internal children.
(Rajesh Khanna is the Assistant Director of Health and Nutrition for Save the Children.)
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