Infectious disease experts believe that it is not the right time to vaccinate children as vaccines were not tested on the underaged population yet
While schools are likely to be reopened after almost a year-long hiatus, the government has decided not to vaccinate the population under the age of 18, at least in the first phase.
The government decision also banks on the fact that the severity of the virus is not the same in the younger population as that of the elderly. Hence young people will not be included in the first phase.
At the same time, infectious disease experts also believe that it is not the right time to vaccinate children as it has not been tested on the underaged population yet.
Mushtaq Hussain, adviser to Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control And Research (IEDCR), told Dhaka Tribune that the sole reason behind omitting the under-18 section of the population from the priority list comes from the lack of testing on this age group.
“The vaccine has not really been tested on vulnerable groups such as underaged people, nursing mothers, and pregnant mothers. Some researchers are doing clinical trials on a small scale, but vaccinating people younger than 18 needs more work to see whether it has any adverse effect on them,” he said.
The vaccines should be given to those who are highly vulnerable or exposed to the virus and those who are most at risk of becoming severely ill from the infection, Mustaq added.
“It is not that people under 18 should not be given Covid-19 vaccine at all. The young population size in Bangladesh is significantly bigger than the older population, but priority should be given to the elderly population, frontliners and high-risk groups as recommended by the World Health Organization,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Pfizer vaccine has been tested on children aged no younger than 12. Biotech company Moderna did not do clinical trials on anyone under the age of 18. Researchers, who are working on the Oxford vaccine, said phase two of their plan involved assessing the use of the vaccine in children aged 5-12 years, reports BBC.
As per the vaccine deployment plan of the Bangladesh government, Covid-19 frontlines such as health workers, journalists, members of various law enforcement agencies, people aged over 64, and people with underlying uncontrolled medical conditions, will be vaccinated with the highest priority in the first phase.
‘Deadly for elderly’
The IEDCR adviser also said that for now, this is a vaccine for adults but in order to vaccinate 80% of the population people, those who are under-18 must also be vaccinated.
“It would not happen in the first phase as the virus seems to be more deadly for the elderly people throughout the world,” he added.
As per World Health Organization’s guidance on developing a national deployment and vaccination plan for Covid-19 vaccines: “Clinical manifestations of Covid-19 are generally milder in children compared to adults. Relatively few cases of infants and young children confirmed with Covid-19 have been reported; of the few young children with Covid-19, most have had mild illness or remain asymptomatic.”
As of Saturday, a total of 97 Covid-19 patients aged under 20 died in Bangladesh since the virus spread. The number of total fatalities is 8,003 in Bangladesh, which means 1.21% of them are aged under 20.
Reopening schools will remain a concern since children under-18 will not get vaccinated in the first phase.
The Education Ministry has ordered educational institutes to take necessary preparations within February 4 to ensure a safe and suitable environment for students to attend classes in. Schools and colleges must be ready to reopen any time the decision is taken.
Children less affected
Farhad Uddin Hasan Chowdhury Maruf, a specialist for infectious disease at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, told Dhaka Tribune that children are less affected by the virus compared to adults, however, the government should not drop down their guard as children could still be carriers.
He suggested reopening schools in phases and students to attend classes by rotation.
“I do not see any reason why schools in less affected areas like Rangamati or Bandarban should still remain closed. The government should reopen schools in those areas and do surveys before reopening schools in high-affected areas, like Dhaka city or Narayanganj,” he told this correspondent.
He told Dhaka Tribune that not vaccinating people under-18 is not a big concern because if vaccines are given to those who are at risk the most, they will be protected from getting infected even if they come into contact with an under-18 Covid-19 carrier.
“The aim of vaccination is to control the spread and protect vulnerable groups. Age is a big factor here because the risk of severe illness from this disease increases with age,” he added.
Nationwide vaccination programs will start after a dry run on 400-500 people in the capital. After the dry run, the nationwide vaccination will likely begin on February 8, according to the Health Ministry.