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Flashback: A health worker gives a shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to 8-year-old Indigenous youth Davi Seremramiwe Xavante at the Hospital da Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil, January 14, 2022. The state of Sao Paulo started the COVID-19 vaccination of children between ages 5 and 11.

Rishard Khan

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech’s Comirnaty COVID-19 vaccine for children between five and 11 on Friday.

But while the Ministry of Health is currently engaging stakeholders on implementing the recommendation locally, some parents are asking it be done in the shortest possible time frame to return students to classrooms and allow them to return to some semblance of normalcy.

According to the head of the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) parent support group on social media, Rachiel Ramsamooj, parents would have preferred their children vaccinated before returning to physical classes on February 7 to prepare for the exam.

“Given that we don’t have a date yet a lot of parents are concerned that they don’t know when this vaccine will be offered to our children locally and it seems as though this will not happen before they return to school,” Ramsamooj told Guardian Media.

Several parents also spoke to Guardian Media under the condition of anonymity to protect themselves and their children from any backlash now that talk of vaccination has become controversial.

A Diego Martin father of four said his 14-year-old son got vaccinated. Now, he said, he is eagerly awaiting for his other three children, ages 7,9 and 11, to be allowed to get their jabs.

“I can’t wait. I’m a little disappointed it’s not already being rolled out,” he said.

“It’s frustrating because we all had to take a step back from our regular lives even though we are vaccinated as parents and our older child. We still had to restrict our activities because of the possibility of bringing it home to half of our family basically. Three out of the six of us are vaccinated.”

It’s a similar concern for a father who is a paediatric doctor in a local hospital. He has two children aged 9 and 3.

“I have seen many cases of children with complications from COVID so I have seen it first hand so therefore it’s more real to me,” he said.

“Every day I’m going home and I’m wondering if I’m going to take it home to my children so, of course, it’s a source of discomfort. I would prefer if my children are vaccinated so at least I know that I’m protecting them from getting these severe complications.”

A St Clair mother of three girls told Guardian Media she is looking forward to her youngest child being able to get vaccinated so the family can return to spending time doing activities they enjoy.

“We love going to our Friday evening Chinese food restaurants…but we haven’t been able to go because my little one is not vaccinated through no fault of her own,” she said.

Ramsamooj, however, noted that parents of her group were divided on vaccinating the age group and on returning to physical classes.

On Saturday, the Minister of Health said the ministry was hosting discussions with the relevant stakeholders before implementing the WHO’s recommendations locally. Despite having the Pfizer vaccines in the country, if the move is approved, doses specifically formulated for the age group will need to be acquired.

Vaccine safety in the category

While the WHO only signed off on the regimen on Friday, countries like the United States have been vaccinating the age group since October 29 after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) amended the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to include them. As of December 19, 2021, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said some 8.7 million doses were administered to the age group. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) showed minimal adverse reactions in the category. VAERS is a national passive vaccine safety surveillance system, jointly managed by the CDC and FDA, that monitors adverse events after vaccination. From November 3 to December 19, 2021, VAERS received and processed 4,249 reports of adverse events. OF these 4,149 (97.6%) were for non-serious events, and 100 (2.4%) were for serious events.

“The most commonly reported conditions and diagnostic findings among the 100 reports of serious events were fever (29; 29.0%), vomiting (21; 21.0%), and increased troponin,” the CDC said on December 31. There were, however, two fatalities recorded but the CDC has not linked the vaccine as a cause.

“These deaths occurred in two females, aged 5 and 6 years, both of whom had complicated medical histories and were in fragile health before vaccination. None of the data suggested a causal association between death and vaccination,” it said.